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Yemen’s Stalled Peace Process Compounds Country’s Acute Humanitarian Crisis

FILE - A friend of artist Haifa Subay takes pictures of her painting a mural she says represents the children and women suffering in Yemen's war, in Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 21, 2019.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is calling for the urgent revival of Yemen’s stalled peace process to end the conflict that is deepening the country’s already catastrophic humanitarian crisis.

The ICRC’s director for the Near and Middle East region, Fabrizio Carboni, just returned from a mission to Yemen and does not mince his words. He says the country has collapsed, and only a political solution will restore the hopes and future of millions of destitute people.

Delegates from the warring parties — the Houthi and Yemeni government — attended U.N.-mediated talks in Stockholm, Sweden, Dec. 13, 2018. This was the first time the warring sides had met in two years.

Carboni said the so-called Stockholm agreement, which emerged from the talks, resulted in some promising humanitarian accords, but is now at a standstill. One of the casualties of this breakdown, he said, was a prisoner swap agreed to by the parties to the conflict.

He said the ICRC was ready to oversee the implementation of the prisoner exchange between the government and Houthi rebels earlier in the year. He said the operation, however, was aborted at the last minute.

“Within the limits of our humanitarian work, we are really ready to go the extra mile. And that is what we did for the release of detainees. Everything was ready. We had the planes. We were in the collection point. Everything was there. You just have to push the button. It starts and it happens,” he said.

Carboni said the ICRC is on standby, ready to go as soon as it is given the green light by the warring parties. In the meantime, he said Red Cross delegates continue to visit detainees to check on their well-being.

He told VOA their conditions of detention are very difficult, with their cells stiflingly hot and humid, with no air conditioning.

“In places of detention, which were built decades ago, if not centuries ago, we have, for instance, very often, problems of scabies. And you can imagine scabies in such an environment, it is a torture. It is hell. It is really hell,” Carboni said.

The ICRC official said he believes all states and parties involved in this conflict want to find a way out of this tragedy. But this, he said, would require trade-offs. This means the parties have to negotiate and be willing to compromise on the issues. He said he understands the difficulties, but remains optimistic it can be done.

The U.N. considers the situation in Yemen the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world. It reports 17,700 civilians have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes against the Houthi rebels in March 2015 in support of the Yemeni government.

The U.N. says more than 3.3 million people are displaced and 80 percent of the population, or 24 million people, need humanitarian assistance, with more than half of them being children.