Rimbo, Sweden – Yemeni officials have said removing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi will “not solve the country’s problems” after their adversaries, the Houthi rebels, proposed the formation of a new transitional government.
Abdulaziz Jabari, a member of the government’s delegation to peace talks in Sweden and a senior adviser to the president, said the country’s woes stemmed from the Houthi takeover of Sanaa and other large expanses of the territory, not from the position Hadi occupied.
“The problem is the military coup that took place in 2014,” Jabari told Al Jazeera on Saturday. “The problem is with those, who through aggression, took over our country.”
“Let’s say Hadi is out of the equation, this is not going to solve the problem. On the contrary, fighting over power will continue,” he said.
“Our biggest problem is that there is a group which has hijacked the state.”
Yemen’s warring sides have been meeting in the Swedish town of Rimbo since Thursday for talks aimed at discussing ways to end the fighting that has killed an estimated 56,000 people and left a staggering 22 million needing humanitarian assistance.
The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is seeking to introduce a set of confidence-building measures at the talks, including large-scale prisoner swaps, negotiations on a ceasefire in Hodeidah and the reopening of Sanaa airport.
The negotiations, which are not face-to-face, are expected to last until December 14, but sources have told Al Jazeera that they could be extended pending any breakthrough.
‘Hadi’s role had ended’
On Friday, Abdul Malik al-Ajri, a senior Houthi leader, proposed a new government be established “that represents all of Yemen and to which all parties will hand over weapons”.
When asked what role Hadi could play in the process, al-Ajri told Al Jazeera: “Hadi’s role had ended.”
Al-Ajri added that the rebels did not agree to the government’s three main points of reference to resolve the crisis, suggesting UN Security Council resolution 2216, the outcomes of the GCC Initiative, and the outcome of a National Dialogue were outdated.
The Houthis have refused to abide by UN Resolution 2216, which stipulates they withdraw from areas they seized in 2014 and hand over heavy weapons to the government.
They have rejected the outcomes of the GCC Initiative as it allowed Hadi to ascend to the presidency in 2012.
They also reject the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), which while aimed to reconcile Yemenis from across the country, also called for Yemen to be divided into six federal regions.
Amid the stalemate, al-Ajri called for “a new resolution in the UN Security Council” to address the changing political situation.
Return Saleh’s body
Also discussed on Saturday was a large-scale prisoner swap deal, which was signed two days earlier at the beginning of the talks.
Abdul Qader al-Murtada, a member of the Houthi delegation, told Al Jazeera that files on the prisoners would be submitted to Griffiths on Saturday, with the process to free the detainees expected to take up to two months.
The AFP news agency reported earlier this week that as many as 2,000 pro-government forces could be exchanged for 1,500 Houthis. But sources close to the deal told Al Jazeera that as many as 6,000 prisoners could be exchanged.
Jabari, the member of the government’s delegation, said the Houthis were told to release “all of our prisoners”, including relatives of the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who was killed in 2017.
“We also want them to hand over the bodies of all of those killed, including the body of the slain president,” he said.
Saleh was killed by the rebels in a rocket-propelled grenade and shooting attack after he publicly said he was willing to engage in talks with Saudi Arabia if it stopped its bombing campaign.
Prior to his demise, Saleh, who was known for his Machiavellian political manoeuvring, was an ally of the Houthis.
“Saleh has massive support across Yemen and his followers deserve that he be given an appropriate funeral,” Jabari said.
Fate of Sanaa airport and Hodeidah unclear
While the sides edged closer to securing a deal on prisoners, they remained far apart on the fate of Sanaa airport and the port in Hodeidah.
Yemen’s foreign minister, Khaled al-Yamani, told the AFP news agency that Aden would be home to the country’s main airport, adding he expected the rebels to surrender Hodeidah port to the government.
“We have a vision that Aden will be the sovereign airport of Yemen,” al-Yamani said.
Al-Yamani added that he expected the port to “work under the administration that ran it in 2014”, before the conflict started.
The Houthis have already rejected the government’s plan for Sanaa airport. Mohammad Abdul Salam, head of the Houthi delegation, told Al Jazeera that the airport must be “opened in accordance with international standards”.
On Saturday, Abdul Salam called for Hodeidah to be made a “neutral zone,” telling the Reuters news agency that “there will be no need for a military presence there if the battles stop”.
Hodeidah is a major lifeline for humanitarian supplies for the country’s war-ravaged population.
The talks in Sweden have come at a critical time as around 20 million Yemenis, more than two-thirds of the country, are going hungry and in urgent need of food assistance.
According to recent estimates, as many as 85,000 children may have died from hunger since the beginning of the war in 2015.