UN-brokered Yemen peace talks kick off in Sweden

Both sides agree to exchange prisoners in first phase of confidence-building steps, UN envoy says

UN-brokered Yemen peace talks kick off in Sweden

UN-backed peace talks between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels kicked off Thursday in Sweden.

Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Margot Wallstrom and UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths also attended the meeting at Johannesburg Castle in Rimbo, Stockholm.

Wallstrom called on both sides to reconcile and end the four-year conflict.

Griffiths said the parties have agreed to exchange prisoners in the first phase of confidence-building steps.

The meetings are expected to last about 10 days.

Griffiths will carry out shuttle diplomacy between the parties who will not meet each other directly.

Yemen has been wracked by violence since 2014, when the Houthi rebels overran much of the country and the crisis escalated in 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition launched a devastating air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi gains. 

Saudi Arabia and Sunni allies accuse the Houthis of acting as a proxy force for Shia Iran. 

Tens of thousands of people, including civilians, are believed to have been killed and the UN estimates that around 14 million Yemenis are at risk of famine.