Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 July 2020

Implementing Hodeidah deal could lead to fresh peace talks, Yemeni official says

Government says this 'will open the door for next round of peace talks'

A paramilitary police officer stands on a street in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen. Reuters
A paramilitary police officer stands on a street in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen. Reuters

Movement towards finally implementing the first stage of an agreed withdrawal from the strategic Red Sea port city of Hodeidah could pave the way for further talks in the coming months, a Yemeni government official has said.

The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and Yemen’s government initially agreed in December to a prisoner exchange deal and a ceasefire in the port city that would lead to a redeployment of forces from the city throughout January.

However, it appears that ambiguity in the text of the document led rebels to refuse to leave and the United Nations – which brokered the deal – has since struggled to get the plan implemented on the ground.

But Martin Griffiths, UN envoy to Yemen, said he believes the process of withdrawing forces from the port city could begin soon and added that both sides “are working very constructively”.

Now a senior Yemeni official has told The National that this could get the diplomatic efforts back on track.

“We hope to get some implementation in Hodeidah, there are some signals that it’s happening. This will open the door for discussions for the next round of peace talks,” the official said on condition of anonymity on Sunday.

The withdrawal of troops from Hodeidah could occur next month, the official said.

While he did not give an idea of when new talks could be held, he said the government was not expecting discussions during Ramadan, which is likely to start around May 5.

During his visit to London last week, Mr Griffiths met the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel Al Jubeir, and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. He also met veteran US diplomat David Satterfield.

“I think we can soon begin the process of redeployment in Hodeidah and frankly both parties are working very constructively. And it’s helped by you [Mr Hunt] and the diplomatic consensus that you bring together to make it happen. It’s the year of Yemen, I hope,” Mr Griffiths said in a video released by the UK’s Foreign Office.

The so-called Quad nations meeting urged the immediate implementation of the Hodeidah Agreement and in particular called on the Houthis to redeploy from the ports of Saleef, Ras Issa, and Hodeidah, according to a statement by the UK's Foreign Office.

The Quad members expect the implementation will be underway when the next UN Security Council briefing takes place on May 15.

"The ministers also underlined that the firing of Iranian made and facilitated ballistic missiles and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles by Houthi forces into neighbouring countries posed threats to regional security and prolonged the conflict," said the statement.

They also expressed full support for "Saudi Arabia and its legitimate national security concerns and called for an immediate end to such attacks by Houthi forces and their allies".

The deal reached in Stockholm in December was part of confidence-building measures aimed at avoiding an assault on Hodeidah by the Arab Coalition trying to restore Yemen’s internationally recognised government and pave the way for political talks.

On April 15, Mr Griffiths told the Security Council that Michael Lollesgaard, the Danish general heading the UN observer team in Hodeidah and chairman of the Redeployment Coordination Committee, had finally secured an agreement to phase one of the withdrawal.

The troop withdrawal was due to be complete by January 7 but stalled over a disagreement on who would control the Red Sea port city.

Access to Hodeidah is crucial to Yemen's commercial and aid supplies and is a lifeline for about 30 million people.

It has become a focal point of the fighting since last summer, raising concern that an all-out-assault could disrupt supply lines and trigger mass starvation in the war-torn country.

Fears were that if the Arab coalition-backed forces made advances into the city, the Houthi’s could sabotage the port facilities as they retreated.

Yemen's war has claimed tens of thousands of lives and plunged parts of the country into famine. Cholera cases have risen sharply and many have been left destitute.

Updated: April 28, 2019 03:20 PM



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