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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
Image:
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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World’s oldest known bird lays another egg

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The world’s oldest known bird is set to become a mother again – after raising at least 30 other youngsters.

Wisdom the albatross has laid another egg at her nest site in Midway Atoll National Wildlife refuge on a tiny island about 1,200 miles northwest of Hawaii, in the Pacific Ocean.

Biologists believe Wisdom is at least 68 years old, forcing them to re-evaluate the age which they expected albatrosses to live to.

Albatross mate for life, but will recouple if a partner dies. The current age of her mate Akeakamai is not known, but the pair have been together since 2006.

Wisdom incubating her egg. Pic: Bob Peyton/USFWS
Image:
Wisdom incubating her egg. Pic: Bob Peyton/USFWS

“She first appeared back at her traditional nest site on November 29 and biologists on Midway have confirmed that she has laid an egg,” a statement from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Region said.

“Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai return to the same nest site on Midway Atoll each year. Biologists call this type of behavior ‘nest site fidelity’.”

Albatross lay a single egg and incubate it for just over two months before they spend another five months rearing it to fledgling status after it hatches.

During that time, Wisdom and Akeakamai will take it in turns to sit on the egg or tend to the chick as the other searches for food at sea.

Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai on their nest in previous years. Pic: Kiah Walker/USFWS Volunteer
Image:
Wisdom and her mate Akeakamai on their nest in previous years. Pic: Kiah Walker/USFWS Volunteer

It is thought that Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, has reared between 30 and 36 chicks in her life.

The chick she produced in 2001 was observed just a few feet away from her in 2017, providing further evidence that albatross offspring return to their parents as they get older.

“Midway Atoll’s habitat doesn’t just contain millions of birds, it contains countless generations and families of albatrosses,” said Kelly Goodale, US Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge biologist.

“If you can imagine when Wisdom returns home she is likely surrounded by what were once her chicks and potentially their chicks. What a family reunion!”

The USFWS says nearly 70% of the world’s Laysan albatross and almost 40% of black-footed albatross rely on the reserve.

Wisdom and her egg on Midway Atoll in 2018. Pic: Madalyn Riley/USFWS
Image:
Wisdom sitting on her egg. Pic: Madalyn Riley/USFWS

There are around three million birds on the atoll, about 1.2 million of which are albatross – providing a crucial refuge for the birds, most species of which are at risk due to loss of habitat, ocean plastic and commercial fishing practices, according to the WWF.

Wisdom was first ringed in 1956 at a time when Midway Island was a strategic outpost for the US Navy.

The biologist who ringed her then rediscovered her 46 years later in 2002 while surveying an area he had previously visited.

It was because she was a fully developed adult bird when he first saw her that he was able to determine her minimum age.

In 2006, she was seen again and from that point, after her age was recognised, she began to be monitored regularly.

More from Sky Ocean Rescue

While the Laysan albatross does not have the wingspan of the wandering albatross – the largest wingspan of any bird – like other species they spend most of their lives in flight over the oceans.

It is thought Wisdom has travelled more than three million miles in her lifetime.

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Soap star questioned and two held after diamond trader found dead in forest

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A soap star has been questioned by police while a former ministerial aide and a policeman have been arrested over the alleged murder of a diamond trader.

Mumbai police detained actress Devoleena Bhattacharjee, who stars in popular Indian drama Saath Nibhana Sathiya, and quizzed her for several hours over the death of Rajeshwar Udani, officials reportedly said on Saturday.

The Times of India reported that the 28-year-old was the girlfriend of Sachin Pawar, who used to work as a personal assistant to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Prakash Mehta.

NDTV reported that Pawar is also an acquaintance of the diamond merchant.

The broadcaster said authorities were remaining tight-lipped on her role in the case but hinted other women from the entertainment business could be questioned.

The investigation comes after the 57-year-old diamond trader’s heavily decomposed body was found in a forest on 5 December in the Raigad district of Maharashtra. He had been reported missing on 28 November.

He was found without any apparent injuries and without any ID. His son identified him from the clothes and shoes he was wearing.

After he had been missing almost a week, police said they were investigating a kidnapping.

Mr Udani’s driver reportedly told police that the businessman had asked to be dropped near the Pant Nagar market where he got into another vehicle.

Media reports say detectives believe Mr Udani may have been killed at another location before being dumped in the forest.

Call records reportedly showed the businessman was a regular at several bars and was in touch with women from the entertainment business through Pawar.

After being released, Bhattacharjee thanked concerned fans on Twitter, saying she was “safe and home”.

“There is nothing to get worried about,” she wrote. “It was an investigation as I know the person who got killed… an official statement has been already given by the department… All is well!!:)”

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Police warning as child caught on CCTV being told to steal parcels

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Police in Maryland have warned residents to be on alert for parcel thieves after a young girl was seen on CCTV being directed to steal packages from a porch.

Officers released footage of the incident at an apartment block in Bel Air as they urged people to be extra vigilant over the Christmas period.

The girl, who is believed to be around eight, was spotted running towards the property, then looking back to get directions, before taking the parcel.

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Facebook: “We always warn you about package Grinches this time of year, but it’s hard to believe that a Grinch decided to use Cindy Lou Who this year to steal packages!

“Who uses a child in this manner?

Child thief in Bel Air, Maryland
Image:
The young thief was spotted in Bel Air, Maryland

“Please be aware of your surroundings, look for suspicious activity in your neighbourhood, and have packages delivered to a safe and secure location if you can.

“Remember, if you see something suspicious, call us.”

The incident happened on 30 November around midday at Inez Court in Bel Air.

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