The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has agreed to allow some wounded Huthi rebels to be evacuated, following a visit to the region by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, his office said Tuesday.
The issue has proved a sticking point in previous peace talks and the move could now pave the way for fresh negotiations, Britain’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The Saudi-led coalition (has) agreed to the evacuation of wounded Huthis from Yemen, one of the key stumbling blocks to the UN Geneva talks in September,” it added.
“Coalition forces will now permit the UN to oversee a Huthi medical evacuation, including up to fifty wounded fighters, to Oman ahead of another proposed round of peace talks in Sweden later this month.”
During a visit to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi on Monday, Hunt met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as leaders from the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
He was in the region to boost support for UN efforts to end the nearly four-year conflict in Yemen, and to press the gulf kingdom over the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“In my meetings we have made progress in removing the largest stumbling block to previous proposed rounds of peace talks, and set out a credible path to a de-escalation of military activity,” Hunt said following the trip.
“I leave the region encouraged by these signs of progress, and I am determined to do what it takes to convert this into a lasting peace for the people of Yemen.”
Hunt also pushed Saudi rulers for “real accountability” in the Khashoggi case, according to Britain’s foreign ministry.
He pointed out “both the strong international condemnation and the need for evidence that such an act could never happen again”, it said.
Britain and the United States are major suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition backing the Yemen government in its fight against Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels.
Britain is seeking support among regional partners for new action at the UN Security Council for peace talks in Yemen.
“Diplomacy and negotiation remain the only path to ending the conflict and I am encouraged that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have shown their support for the UN peace process, led by Special Envoy Martin Griffiths,” Hunt added.
“I will continue talking to partners about the best way for the Security Council to support the UN special envoy’s efforts on the political process and improve the humanitarian situation.”
Griffiths is due to brief the Security Council on the situation in Yemen on November 16.