Representatives from both sides of the Yemen war began U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Sweden Thursday, with both sides calling for de-escalation.
The Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen said the talks began in Stockholm Thursday.
"Yemen's future is in the hands of those in this room," Special Envoy Martin Griffiths said in a report by Al Jazeera. "We must act now before we lose control of the future of Yemen."
The summit marks the second time pro-government officials have met with Houthi rebels since the war began nearly four years ago. The fighting has killed an estimated 55,000 people and as many as 22 million civilians need humanitarian assistance.
One sign of progress is a prisoner swap agreement that could free 2,000 pro-government forces and 1,500 Houthis.
"I am pleased to announce the signing of an agreement on prisoners, those that have been forcibly detained," Griffith said. "It will allow thousands of families to be reunited."
Also, the Houthis rebels have said they are committed to handing over control of the Hudaydah port to the United Nations so humanitarian supplies can reach civilians who need food and medicine. The rebels also promised to cease drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who back to pro-government forces.
Lorraine Marulanda, head of the British Red Cross efforts in the Middle East and North Africa, said long-term peace is needed with as many as 14 million people at risk of starvation.
"Yemeni people need a period of safety and stability in order to be able to access support such as healthcare or to find food for their families," Murulanda said. "A break in the hostilities will allow aid agencies to reach those in need of help. In the long-term Yemen needs a sustainable, political solution to end this conflict and tragic human suffering."
Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni activist and co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel peace prize, said it's critical for outside countries to stop intervening in Yemen affairs.
"This intervention has harmed Yemen and increased the suffering of ordinary Yemenis," Karman said. "Unless this negative intervention is reduced, Yemenis will not be able to reach a political agreement that preserves the country's sovereignty."
Experts say it's still a fragile situation that could fall apart at any time. Thursday, Houthi media reported a coalition airstrike killed three women in al-Duraymi city.
"While the process does appear to be moving in the right direction, the odds are in favor of a negative outcome," Peter Salisbury, a Yemen analyst and consultant at the International Crisis Group, said.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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