Yemen rivals trade barbs as talks begin

Expectations low as Yemen's warring parties meet for talks

Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, who heads the Saudi-backed government's delegation to the UN-sponsored talks in Sweden, told AFP his team would follow through with a planned prisoner swap with the Houthi rebels - but refused to compromise on the flashpoint port city of Hodeida, home to Yemen's most valuable port.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday called on Yemen's warring sides to engage in UN-brokered talks without imposing pre-conditions after the government and rebels put forward demands.

World Food Program's spokesman Herve Verhoosel said the "ambitious undertaking" finalizes plans in the works in recent months to reach 12 million people with food and nutritional supplements through January, from between 7-8 million now.

Sweden's foreign minister Margot Wallstrom opened the talks with a press conference, where she wished both sides the strength to find "compromise and courage" on the hard task ahead.

"Such a reduction of violence and restraint on the battlefield has a significant impact on the lives of Yemenis, but is also a signal to the people that we are here with serious intent to pursue a political solution", he said.

More than 10,000 people have been killed since the fighting broke out in 2014 when the rebels seized the capital of Sanaa, forcing the government to flee to temporary exile in Saudi Arabia.

Hodeida is on the agenda at the talks, slated to run for one week. Griffiths had attempted to bring the two sides together for UN-sponsored talks in Geneva in September of this year, but the rebels failed to appear.

In March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition launched a deadly campaign against the rebels, one that has been widely criticized by human rights groups for its high civilian death toll.

More than 2 million people have been displaced by conflict, including marginalized communities such as the "Muhammasheen", a minority tribe that originally migrated from Africa.

Yemeni voices from both sides continued to make some last-minute demands and accusatory finger-pointing, while minor fighting continued to some extent on the ground.

"During the coming days we will have a critical opportunity to give momentum to the peace process", Griffiths told reporters as the rival delegations gathered in Sweden.

"Now it is up to you, the Yemini parties", she said.

Martin Griffiths spoke at the opening of Yemen peace talks in Sweden on Thursday.

Confidence-building measures before the talks included a prisoner swap and the evacuation of wounded rebels for medical treatment.

The talks mark the first attempt in two years to broker an end to the Yemen conflict, which has killed at least 10,000 people since 2015 and triggered what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The legitimate government delegation said - regarding the strategic port city of Hodeidah - that the national army "have means to resolve the file of the port of Hodeidah, if peaceful efforts fail". The conflict pits the internationally recognized government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition, against Shiite rebels, known as Houthis. The coalition called the attack "a mistake".

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