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Houthi comments to not give up Hodeidah an ‘insult’ to UN, says government official

Administrators dismiss 'unsurprising' rebel statement as UN hails progress in peace deal

Mohammed Ali Al Houthi, head of Yemen's Houthi rebels’ s supreme revolutionary committee speaks during an interview with Associated Press in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday Mar. 19, 2019. AP
Mohammed Ali Al Houthi, head of Yemen's Houthi rebels’ s supreme revolutionary committee speaks during an interview with Associated Press in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday Mar. 19, 2019. AP

Houthi refusal to withdraw from the port city of Hodeidah despite international efforts to resolve the conflict is an insult to the United Nations, the Yemeni government told The National on Wednesday.

Yemen's Deputy Human Rights Minister on Wednesday reacted to comments made on Tuesday by Mohammed Ali Al Houthi, a senior rebel, in which he told the Associated Press news agency that the group would not pull forces out of Hodeidah, despite a UN-backed ceasefire agreement made in Sweden last December.

The statement appeared to blow a hole in efforts by UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffith, to salvage the long-delayed implementation of the deal.

“What Mohammed Al Houthi said during his interview is an insult to the UN and to Mr Griffith's peace efforts,” said Majed Fadil.

The government, he added, has clearly stated its intention to withdraw from the port city as per the terms of the agreement.

“This is the fourth initiative that the Houthis have rejected and declared that they will not implement the Swedish agreement,” Mr Fadhil said.

The comments by Al Houthi came as Mr Griffith was telling the Security Council that “significant progress” had been made towards reaching the Sweden deal for Hodeidah, which would see it handed over to civilian authorities.

The agreement – the first in two years – sparked hope for a path toward a wider discussion to end the four-year conflict.

Mr Fadil said Yemen was waiting on Mr Griffiths and General Michael Lollesgaard – the head of the Redeployment Co-ordination Committee that is overseeing the implantation of the deal – as well as pressures from the international community to ensure that the agreement is upheld.

“We are holding the Houthis responsible for the failure of the agreement and their willingness to ignite a war in Hodediah,” he said.

“We know the Houthis very well, they thrive off human suffering and this needs to become clear to the international community more than ever,” he added.

Al Houthi on Tuesday accused the government of misinterpreting the Swedish deal.

The rebel official said that the government “couldn’t get the port by force and they won’t seize it by tricks.”

“We agreed on the redeployment according to the presented mechanism, but withdrawal, as they are promoting, is impossible,” Al Houthi said.

Al Houtih is the head of the rebel’s supreme revolutionary committee and is the cousin of the group’s leader, Abdul Malik Al Houthi. He is believed to have been the military commander in charge of the offensive to seize the capital of Sanaa in 2014.

Although Yemen’s warring sides are provisionally in agreement over pulling their forces back from the frontlines, they have not agreed over who will run the port once they both leave.

If the pullback is implemented, it would mark the first concrete step towards de-escalation in the port city. However, a major issue with the deal is that there was little done in the way of defining the language used or agreeing how it would be translated into action on the ground, leading to the current battle being waged over the interpretation.

The agreement stipulated that a “local force” would take over without specifying who would take control. What constitutes a local force has become central to the debate taking place.

Although it was meant to be implemented in December and early January, there was a something of a reduction in fighting but the pull out never took place.

The UN said on February 17 that a new two-stage timeline had been agreed for the withdrawal from the three ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa, but again the deadlines were missed.

Despite the delays, Mr Griffiths said on Tuesday that “significant progress” has been made on the redeployment of forces from the port city.

“Operational details will be presented to the parties in the Redeployment Co-ordination Committee for endorsement shortly,” he said.

The committee has worked "with the parties to secure the city of Hodeidah and the ports of Hodeidah, Salif, and Ras Issa in accordance with Yemeni law," a statement by the UN said.

Yemeni government officials told The National that the Houthi statement was “not surprising” and is part of their overall strategy to avoid complying to what was agreed to in Sweden.

“The statement made by the Houthis is not surprising, its part of their nature to say such things,” Rana Ghanem, a member of the Yemeni government delegation that was sent to Sweden, said.

The statement made by the Houthis is not surprising, its part of their nature to say such things. Rana Ghanem, Yemeni government official.

There are ongoing efforts by both the government and the Houthi team that are part of the RCC to get a final agreement on Hodeidah, Ms Ghanem said.

However, others in the government are more concerned by Al Houthi’s comments. Requesting anonymity to discuss the situation more freely, one official told The National that the statement could indicate the rebels plan to launch a military campaign in the city.

“The statement by Mohammed Ali Al Houthi suggests that they are willing to re-start the battle after being accused of refusing to comply to the UN deal,” the official said.

The official said the rebels have been impeding the work of the RCC and its head, adding that it “all indicates that they don’t want peace.”

Updated: March 20, 2019 02:44 PM



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