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Yemen peace talks start in Sweden with prisoner exchange deal

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Yemen’s warring sides have agreed to free thousands of prisoners at the start of peace talks to end the country’s devastating conflict.

The meeting is set to last a week in the picturesque town of Rimbo – 35 miles north of Stockholm – with UN sources saying they are hoping for “confidence-building measures” rather than a breakthrough.

The prison exchange, to be overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross, was seen as an encouraging start to the talks. The Red Cross said about 5,000 people would be freed.

At least 10,000 people have been killed in the war – though observers believe the number could be much higher – and Save the Children estimates 85,000 children under five may have starved to death.

Martin Griffiths (L) shook hands with Yemeni delegates as the talks prepared to start
Image:
Martin Griffiths (L) shook hands with Yemeni delegates as the meeting began
The talks are at being held at Johannesberg Castle in Rimbo,  north of Stockholm
Image:
The talks are at being held at Johannesberg Castle in Rimbo, north of Stockholm

The UN has called it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and that 14 million people are in danger of famine because of an aid blockade.

The UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said that even just getting the warring sides to the table was an important milestone.

“During the coming days we will have a critical opportunity to give momentum to the peace process,” he said as the rival delegations arrived in Sweden.

However, he cautioned that the talks were “consultations” and “not yet beginning the process of negotiations”.

Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, welcomed the two sides as they sat in the same room at Rimbo’s Johannesberg Castle and urged them to find “compromise and courage”.

“Now it is up to you, the Yemini parties,” she said. “You have the command of your future.”



Martin Griffiths








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Video:
November: Failure in Yemen would be ‘quite appalling’ – Griffiths

Ahead of the talks, a top Houthi official threatened to stop UN planes using the capital’s airport unless the negotiations allowed for its full reopening.

Yemeni government officials hit back by demanding rebels disarm and pull out of the Red Sea port city of Hodeida.

The foreign ministry tweeted a demand that the “coupist militias withdraw fully from the western coast and hand the area over to the legitimate government”.

The Saudi-led coalition – which backs the government – has been laying siege to Hodeida for months, with civilians caught in the crossfire.

The coalition intervened in 2015 to restore a government ousted by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

Pro-government forces gather on the eastern outskirts of Hodeida
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Pro-government forces have been trying to take control of Hodeida

Pressure to end the war has intensified amid dire humanitarian warnings and the Jamal Khashoggi murder, which has focussed attention on Saudi government actions.

A Yemeni government source told Reuters they wanted maps of where rebels have planted landmines.

Sources on both sides said they would demand a ceasefire and the opening of humanitarian corridors.

Mr Griffiths said he believes the talks can “bring good news for Hodeida and for the people of Yemen”.



Countless children are dying from lack of food and healthcare in Yemen








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Video:
Special report: Yemen’s children are starving

“We have been working to reach a negotiated agreement to spare both the city and port the threat of destruction, and guarantee the full operation of the port,” he wrote in The New York Times.

The coalition also allowed the Houthis to evacuate 50 wounded rebels for treatment in Oman.

Saudi Arabia and the coalition it leads first intervened in Yemen in 2015, with the aim of restoring its internationally-recognised government that had been ousted from the capital of Sana’a the year before.

They are widely seen as having got involved because of the rebels’ ties to regional rival Iran.

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Thirty injured as 1,000 firefighters battle wildfires in Portugal | World News

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More than 1,000 firefighters are tackling wildfires spreading in east Portugal, which have injured 30 people.

Homeowners tried to protect their properties from the huge fires with buckets of water and hosepipes as strong winds fanned the winds on Sunday.

Portugal’s Civil Protection Authority said more than 1,150 firefighters were working to contain the blazes, which broke out on Saturday across three fronts in the district of Castelo Branco, 124 miles (200km) north east of the capital Lisbon.

A firefighter passes while a wildfire burns the forest at Amendoa in Macao, central Portugal on July 21, 2019. - More than a thousand firefighters battled to control wildfires in central Portugal that have forced village evacuations, in a region where dozens were killed in huge blazes in 2017. The firefighters were deployed to tackle three fires in the mountainous and heavily forested Castelo Branco region, 200 kilometres north of Lisbon, according to the website of the Civil Protection. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
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There are 1,000 firefighters working to contain the blazes
Villagers help to put out a forest fire at the small village of Colos, Portugal
Image:
Villagers help to put out a forest fire at the small village of Colos, Portugal

Authorities said one injured civilian was taken to hospital and is in a serious condition after suffering first and second-degree burns.

Villages and fluvial beaches were evacuated as a precaution and 30 people are known to be injured.

Firefighters were being supported by 10 firefighting aircraft as well as hundreds of vehicles.

Some houses were affected by the fires but Portugal’s Civil Protection did not provide a specific number.

A villager holds a hose as a wildfire comes close to his house at Amendoa in Macao, central Portugal on July 21, 2019. - More than a thousand firefighters battled to control wildfires in central Portugal that have forced village evacuations, in a region where dozens were killed in huge blazes in 2017. The firefighters were deployed to tackle three fires in the mountainous and heavily forested Castelo Branco region, 200 kilometres north of Lisbon, according to the website of the Civil Protection. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Image:
Villagers have tried to keep the flames away from their homes
A firefighters tackles a wildfire at Amendoa in Macao, central Portugal on July 21, 2019. - More than a thousand firefighters battled to control wildfires in central Portugal that have forced village evacuations, in a region where dozens were killed in huge blazes in 2017. The firefighters were deployed to tackle three fires in the mountainous and heavily forested Castelo Branco region, 200 kilometres north of Lisbon, according to the website of the Civil Protection. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Image:
A firefighter tackles a wildfire at Amendoa in Macao

“The fire is out of control, without resources on the ground, and the population at risk,” Vasco Estrela, the mayor of Macao, told Portuguese radio station TSF. “We never thought we would live through this again.”

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the Portuguese president, said he would be in contact with the mayors in the affected areas.

A statement on the presidential website said: “Aware of adverse weather conditions, the President of the Republic conveys all solidarity to the men and women who fight them, as well as to the most directly affected populations, accompanied by all the Portuguese.”

Strong winds have made it more difficult for firefighters to tackle the blaze, but authorities said they hoped to have them under control soon.

One wildfire made its way to Macao, an area in the district of Santarum, in western Portugal where temperatures reached 34C (93.2F) on Sunday.

A car burns near at the small village of Vila de Rei, Portugal
Image:
A car burns near at the small village of Vila de Rei, Portugal
Firefighters help to put out a forest fire near the village of Vila de Rei
Image:
Firefighters help to put out a forest fire near the village of Vila de Rei

Images broadcast by Portuguese TV channel TVI showed villagers in Macao trying to protect their houses and animals as smoke filled the air, forcing many to wear masks.

“(It will be) an afternoon of intense work,” Belo Costa, a Civil Protection official, told reporters.

Police have opened an investigation on the fires, with local authorities considering it unusual that all blazes had started in a narrow time frame between 2.30pm and 3.30pm local time on Saturday in the same area.

In a statement, police said that a 55-year-old man was detained on suspicion of starting a blaze in the Portuguese district of Castelo Branco.

A firefighter monitors the progression of a wildfire at Amendoa in Macao, central Portugal on July 21, 2019. - More than a thousand firefighters battled to control wildfires in central Portugal that have forced village evacuations, in a region where dozens were killed in huge blazes in 2017. The firefighters were deployed to tackle three fires in the mountainous and heavily forested Castelo Branco region, 200 kilometres north of Lisbon, according to the website of the Civil Protection. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
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So far eight firefighters have been injured
A villager tries to put out the fire as it gets close to his house at Amendoa in Macao, central Portugal on July 21, 2019. - More than a thousand firefighters battled to control wildfires in central Portugal that have forced village evacuations, in a region where dozens were killed in huge blazes in 2017. The firefighters were deployed to tackle three fires in the mountainous and heavily forested Castelo Branco region, 200 kilometres north of Lisbon, according to the website of the Civil Protection. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
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A villagers throws water on the fire as flames creep toward his home

One resident said: “The wildfire came with force. We [the residents] had to fight the flames.”

He said there were not enough firefighters, a worry echoed by Ricardo Aires, the mayor of Vila de Rei which has been affected.

The army is sending 20 soldiers and four bulldozers to help with the operation.

A villages holds a hose as a wildfire comes close to his house at Amendoa in Macao, central Portugal on July 21, 2019. - More than a thousand firefighters battled to control wildfires in central Portugal that have forced village evacuations, in a region where dozens were killed in huge blazes in 2017. The firefighters were deployed to tackle three fires in the mountainous and heavily forested Castelo Branco region, 200 kilometres north of Lisbon, according to the website of the Civil Protection. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Image:
There have been no wildfire deaths since 2017
A firefighter tackles a wildfire at Amendoa in Macao, central Portugal on July 21, 2019. - More than a thousand firefighters battled to control wildfires in central Portugal that have forced village evacuations, in a region where dozens were killed in huge blazes in 2017. The firefighters were deployed to tackle three fires in the mountainous and heavily forested Castelo Branco region, 200 kilometres north of Lisbon, according to the website of the Civil Protection. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Image:
The fires broke out on Saturday night

This is the first major wildfire in Portugal this year.

In 2017, 106 people were killed in some of the country’s deadliest fires on record.

The Portuguese government backed stronger firefighting prevention methods after the heavy death toll of that year and there were no wildfire deaths in 2018.

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UK to send 250 troops to Mali for dangerous peacekeeping mission | World News

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The UK is to send 250 troops to Mali in the biggest peace-keeping deployment since Bosnia and potentially the most dangerous mission for British forces since Afghanistan.

The soldiers will form a long-range reconnaissance task group, specifically chosen for their ability to operate in small teams and in violent, contested areas of the country.

They will be asked reach parts of Mali that most militaries cannot, to feed on-the-ground intelligence back to the mission headquarters in Gao. They will arrive in the country early next year.

A UN armoured vehicle
Image:
A UN armoured vehicle

“They will do the part of the heavy lifting. They will do the operations in very contentious areas… where we have a great deal of uncertainty. They will do operations where we face threats to us and to the civilian populations,” the UN Force Commander Lieutenant General Dennis Gyllensporre explained.

Although wearing the distinctive light blue UN helmets and deployed with a peace-keeping mandate, it’s privately acknowledged that they will likely be targeted by extremist groups fighting for power in one of the world’s poorest and most dangerous countries.

The British deployment comes as security in Mali and the wide Sahel region has deteriorated rapidly in recent months, causing thousands of people to be displaced and a dramatic spike in deaths.

A range of violent factions – some allied to al Qaeda – are vying for influence, and Islamic State in West Africa has successfully established a foothold in Mali.

Such is the concern within the British government that a Joint Sahel Task Group has been established in London to address the potential threats from what is known as the G5: Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.

Guard at a checkpoint outside Gao in eastern Mali
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Guard at a checkpoint outside Gao in eastern Mali

A regional hub has been set up in Dakar and two new British embassies will open in Niger and Chad. Close to £10m will be spent on security and humanitarian initiatives in the region this year.

Albeit relatively small, the deployment has been welcomed by the UN in New York and is being seen in the British government as one of the most significant military commitments since Afghanistan and the fight against Islamic State.

Two RAF Chinooks flying low over Mali delivering troops and equipment to French forces
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Two RAF Chinooks flying low over Mali delivering troops and equipment to French forces

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt travelled to Mali to make the announcement in person.

She said: “In one of West Africa’s poorest and most fragile regions it is right that we support some of the world’s most vulnerable people and prioritise our humanitarian and security efforts in the Sahel.”

France, with historical links in Mali, is the biggest military force in the country with more than 4,500 troops fighting Islamist extremists. The Paris government has paid a heavy toll for the five-year commitment, losing 15 soldiers and many more injured.

River Niger running through Bamako
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The River Niger running through Bamako

Three RAF Chinook helicopters and around 100 personnel have been operating with French forces in the north of the country since 2018, in a non-combat role. The Chinooks have provided valuable heavy-lift to the mission, a capability the French don’t have.

That commitment was recently extended by a further six months to June 2020, viewed as a gesture of Anglo-French goodwill post-Brexit.

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