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No face-to-face meetings at Yemen peace talks: official

The devastating conflict in Yemen has left nearly 10,000 people dead since March 2015
Mohammed HUWAIS (AFP/File)

Yemen's warring parties will not meet face-to-face at UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva this week which will likely focus on a prisoner exchange deal, government officials said Sunday.

The United Nations has invited Yemen's government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels to Geneva for talks from Thursday to Sunday.

Envoy Martin Griffiths has said the talks are aimed at charting a path forward to revive UN-backed negotiations which broke down in 2016.

Government officials say the talks will likely focus on a prisoner exchange deal and the fate of embattled Hodeida, the rebel-held port city that is now the front line of the Yemen war.

Yemen's Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani told AFP the meetings "will not be face-to-face and depend on how well the UN envoy manages the two sides".

"The consultations will be indirect, unless there is some progress that can be made directly," said Abdullah al-Olaimi, head of Yemen's presidential office and a member of the Geneva delegation.

AP Photo/Hani Mohammed

Yemen's government has openly said it has low expectations for the talks, blaming the Houthis for refusing to make concessions.

"Our expectations are limited to the possibility of progress in the question of prisoners and detainees," Yamani said.

"I think this is the chance to succeed in securing the release of prisoners, and I believe the other party is also willing and ready."

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a government source said the delegation would demand the release of 5,000 prisoners, while the rebels seek the release of some 3,000 of their fighters, the source said.

Backed by Saudi Arabia and its allies, the government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi has battled the Houthis for more than three years in what is widely seen as a proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran.

In July, Houthi rebels fired missiles at two Saudi oil tankers in the Bab al-Mandab Strait which connects the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea and is a narrow, strategic navigation lane for oil and international trade.

AFP

Initially, Saudi Arabia’s response was to temporarily suspended oil shipments through the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

Only later did Saudi Arabia respond by destroying the site where the missiles were believed to have been fired from.

Weeks later, Tehran admitted that it instructed the Houthi rebels to strike the Saudi tankers.

The conflict in Yemen has killed more than 10,000 people since 2015 and triggered what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition in June launched a major offensive to capture Hodeida from the Houthi rebels, sparking fears of a fresh humanitarian crisis.

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