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Control over ports of entry a major concern in Yemen peace talks in Sweden

The airport in Aden will become Yemen's main airport, the country's foreign minister has said.
KARIM SAHIB (AFP/File)
Government demands a full rebel withdrawal from Hodeida port, and expects Aden to become the main airport.

Yemen's foreign minister on Saturday said that the government-controlled city of Aden will be home to the country's main airport, in the midst of talks to reopen the rebel-held international airport in the capital Sanaa.

"We are ready to reopen Sanaa international airport today... but we have a vision that Aden will be the sovereign airport of Yemen," Khaled al-Yamani told AFP in his first interview since the talks opened in Sweden on Thursday. 

Yemen's capital has been held by Huthi rebels since 2014, when the insurgents drove the government out and seized a string of ports across the country's coastline. 

The government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi has since fought to drive the Iran-backed rebels back, supported since 2015 by a behemoth military coalition led by Saudi Arabia -- Tehran's regional archrival. 

The conflict has triggered what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 14 million people now at the brink of famine. Nearly 10,000 people have been killed in under four years, according to conservative estimates. 

The warring parties convened in the rural Swedish village of Rimbo on Thursday for UN-brokered talks which will not, officials say, find a political solution to the conflict. 

Sanaa international airport has been defunct for years, severely damaged in air raids by the Saudi-led coalition, which controls Yemeni airspace. 

A government proposal to allow flights to and from Sanaa was categorically rejected by the rebels Friday. 

Among the conditions set by the government are mandatory transit points in Aden and Sayoun, another government-held city, for plane inspections. 

Fabrice COFFRINI (AFP)

The Saudi-backed coalition accuses the Huthis of smuggling arms from Iran through Sanaa as well as Hodeida, the rebel-held Red Sea city home to Yemen's most valuable port. Iran denies the charge. 

Foreign Minister Yamani said a government demand for a full rebel withdrawal from the city and port of Hodeida were non-negotiable. 

"As concerns the port... We accept that it works under the administration that ran the port in 2014, and we are ready to coordinate with the UN on supervision and the reinforcement of port operations," said Yamani. 

"But the port must remain sovereign, part of the work of the Yemeni transport ministry which is in charge of Yemeni borders and ports." 

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