Yemen government proposes re-opening of Sanaa airport in peace talks

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Marwan Dammaj, Yemen's Minister of Culture, answers journalists' questions during the peace talks on Yemen held at Johannesberg Castle, in Rimbo, 50km north of Stockholm, Sweden, on Friday. — AFP

RIMBO, Sweden — Yemen's Saudi-backed government has proposed reopening the Houthi-held airport in the capital Sanaa on condition planes are first inspected in the airports of Aden or Sayun which are under its control, two government officials said on Friday.

The proposal was made at UN-sponsored Yemen peace talks in Sweden aimed at building confidence-building measures that could eventually lead to a ceasefire.

Yemen's warring sides agreed on Thursday to free thousands of prisoners, in what UN mediator Martin Griffiths called a hopeful start to the first peace talks in two years to end a war that has pushed millions of people to the verge of starvation.

Griffiths wants a deal on reopening Sanaa airport, shoring up the central bank and securing a truce in Hodeidah, the country's main port, held by the Houthis and a focus of the war after the coalition launched a campaign to capture it this year.

Marwan Dammaj, Yemen's minister of culture in the internationally-recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, told Reuters Sanaa airport should be re-opened to put "an end to the people's suffering regarding transportation".

"But it should be a domestic airport from where Yemenis can go to Aden and then leave to international destinations," added Dammaj, a member of the government delegation.

Hamza Al Kamali, another member of the delegation, said airplanes must stop in airports in the southern city of Aden or Sayun, east of the capital, for inspection before leaving Yemen.

"We are keen on the opening of Sanaa airport, and we demand the opening of Sanaa airport and we know that the Yemeni citizen should have the right to reach any country in the world through Sanaa airport," said Abdulaziz Jabari, a presidential advisor and member of a Yemeni government delegation at the talks. "But... we are looking into who will supervise Sanaa airport."

A government offensive on Yemen's Hodeidah remains an option if rebels refuse to withdraw from the port city, a minister said Friday.

"We are now in negotiations in response to calls by the international community, the UN and the UN envoy. We are still looking into means towards peace," said Agriculture Minister Othman Al-Mujalli.

"But if they (the rebels) are not responsive, we have many options, including that of military decisiveness," he told reporters in response to a question on the rebel-held city. "And we are ready."

Rights groups have urged both sides to make concessions in the fight for control over one of the world's poorest countries to spare further civilian suffering — as 14 million people edge towards famine and one child dies every 10 minutes of preventable causes.

While the days leading up to the gathering saw the government and rebels agreeing on a prisoner swap deal and the evacuation of wounded insurgents for medical treatment in Oman, both parties traded threats as the talks began. The two sides have not yet met face-to-face. — Agencies


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