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British FM says Yemen peace process 'could be dead within weeks'

Stringer, Reuters | Yemen Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani gestures as he walks with British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt at the presidential palace in Aden, Yemen, on March 3, 2019.

British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Sunday that a peace process in Yemen’s main port city “could be dead within weeks” without more committed effort from both sides.

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The agreement to implement a troop withdrawal in Hodeida, a lifeline for millions facing famine, by January 7 was intended to clear the way for wider negotiations to end the four-year war, but progress has been slow.

“We are now in last-chance saloon for the Stockholm peace process,” Hunt said in a statement during a visit to Yemen. “The process could be dead within weeks if we do not see both sides sticking to their commitments in Stockholm.”

‘Last chance for peace’

Hunt held talks with his Yemeni counterpart in government-held Aden on Sunday, in the first visit by a western foreign minister to the war-torn country in years.

“I am here because this is really the last chance for peace,” Hunt said from Aden, in a video uploaded to his Twitter account.

Hunt’s talks with Yemen’s top diplomat Khaled al-Yamani concerned the conflict and “international efforts to bring peace to Yemen”, state news agency Saba said.

They discussed an agreement on a ceasefire and prisoner exchange between the warring sides, brokered by the United Nations at talks in Sweden in December, Saba said.

On Friday, Hunt tweeted a picture with Mohammed Abdelsalam, head of the rebel delegation to the UN talks, saying the two had met in the Gulf state of Oman to discuss the implementation of the Sweden agreements.

Britain has resisted pressure to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which along with the UAE leads a pro-government alliance in Yemen battling Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The coalition has been blacklisted for the killing and maiming of children by the UN, while both sides in the conflict stand accused of failing to protect civilians.

Since the Saudi-led alliance intervened four years ago, some 10,000 people have been killed, according to the World Health Organization, although rights groups say the figure could be five times higher.

Starvation risk for millions

Millions more are at risk of starvation, according to the UN which says Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Hunt’s visit to Aden comes a day after he met with Yemen’s embattled president Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi in Saudi Arabia, where he has lived in self-imposed exile since 2015.

While in the kingdom Hunt also held talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf and Adel al-Jubeir, state minister for foreign affairs, on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the fate of jailed Saudi women activists.

The killing of Khashoggi, a Saudi insider-turned-critic, at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate last October sparked global uproar and amplified calls to end arms exports to Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia on Friday announced that a group of women activists will face trial after nearly a year in detention, during which they have allegedly faced torture and sexual harassment.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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