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Sweden’s FM to tour Mideast to relaunch Yemen talks

SANAA, Yemen (AP) - Sweden’s foreign minister said Friday she was heading to the Middle East in an attempt to relaunch talks between Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the country’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Margot Wallstrom told Swedish Radio that she wants to “speak with as many people as possible,” adding she will visit Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Jordan, and planned to meet officials from the United Nations. Wallstrom admitted a deal signed in December was “fragile.”

“I believe we have a great deal of trust with the parties and we believe that it is our responsibility to try to ensure that this agreement is implemented,” she said.

In December, both sides signed a U.N.-brokered peace deal in Stockholm, Sweden, under mounting international pressure to alleviate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

But while the two sides agreed to the redeployment of forces from the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, they have been divided over who will run the main entry point for humanitarian aid to the country once they pull out. The U.N.-brokered deal reached in Stockholm was vague on that point, saying only that a “local force” would take over without specifying who would lead it.

Since the agreement, violence in Yemen has continued unabated between Shiite Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition formed in 2015 to fight on behalf of the government of Yemeni President Mansour Abed Rabbo Hadi.

Earlier this month, fighting also erupted between government forces and southern separatists, ostensible allies in the anti-Houthi coalition after a separatist leader called on his followers to march on the temporary capital, Aden, to topple Hadi’s government.

Security officials and local residents said Friday the separatist Security Belt militia raided houses of government officials and military commanders in Aden. The militia killed the brother of a military commander, they said.

The Security Belt also arrested at least five students from the southern province of Shabwa who are studying in Aden’s university, the officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media, while the residents demanded anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Also on Friday, an explosion near a checkpoint controlled by separatists killed three people, according to security officials who also spoke anonymously. Clashes between Security Belt forces and unidentified militants followed the explosion, the officials said.

The Islamic State group in Yemen later released a statement on its website claiming responsibility for the detonation of an explosives-laden motorcycle in the Dar Sa’d district of Aden, saying it targeted a gun-mounted vehicle transporting separatist forces loyal to “the apostate UAE government.” The group claimed nine were killed and wounded.

Following the explosion, the secessionist Southern Transitional Council declared a state of emergency and imposed a nightly curfew in Aden. It also blocked the use of motorcycles in the city.

The explosion came a day after clashes continued in Aden as forces loyal to Hadi seek to take back the city from separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates.

Yemen’s Defense Ministry said a total of 300 government troops had been killed or wounded in a series of airstrikes by UAE warplanes. Although a pillar in the Saudi-led coalition, the UAE never threw its full backing behind Hadi because of his alleged ties with Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood, a pan Arab movement designated as a terrorist organization by the UAE.

The UAE acknowledged its fighter jets carried out the airstrikes, saying that they were targeting “terrorists” and that the strikes came in response to attacks on the coalition.

The Human Rights Ministry of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, meanwhile, said the UAE-backed militia had killed or wounded at least 300 civilians, including women and children, in the provinces of Aden and Shabwa over the last three days. It said in a statement that abuses and violations by the militia had intensified since the airstrikes Thursday.

The infighting underscores the fragile nature of the anti-Houthi coalition and warns of the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the war-torn Arab country.

___

Associated Press writer Ahmed al-Haj reported this story in Sanaa and AP writer Jan. M. Olsen reported from Copenhagen.

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