Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

UN calls out Houthi rebels over Hodeidah peace plan

The UN says rebels have failed to honour agreement to open a humanitarian corridor

The United Nations on Sunday questioned the Houthis’ commitment to sticking to a peace initiative aimed at withdrawing the rebels from the port city of Hodeidah.

The rebels have failed to honour an agreement “to open a humanitarian corridor” between Hodeidah and the capital, Sanaa, which are both under Houthi control, to deliver much needed aid to civilians, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“General Patrick Cammaert, who heads a team of monitors in Hodeidah, has expressed his disappointment at their missed opportunity to build confidence between the parties,” Mr Dujarric said, referring to a meeting with rebel representatives.

The planned evacuation is part of a confidence building measure agreed upon during the Sweden peace talks. Rebels and government officials agreed to a ceasefire and the withdrawal of forces from the province in a bid to end the country's nearly four-year war.

Yemen's Houthi rebels are not committing to a full withdrawal from the port city of Hodeidah, government and military officials have told The National.

Their alleged withdrawal "is a blatant act and ploy against the United Nations and the international community,” said the official, in reference to the rebel group's claim they had handed over control of the main port in the Red Sea city.

According to Yemeni government officials, Houthi rebels have disguised loyal administrators and fighters in government military and guard fatigues and deployed them to the city and its three ports.

Brigadier Yehya Abu Hatim, a senior commander in the Yemeni military, said the rebels were masquerading as guards of the city in a bid to keep fighters there.

“The force that the Houthis claim is the Coast Guards are their fighters in reality. They got dressed in the uniforms of the old Coast Guards to replace them,” he said, adding that all of the guards had fled Hodeidah at the onset of the civil war in 2014.

Another official, who asked to remain anonymous, made the same accusation.

“The rebels claim that they have left Hodeidah, but instead they have changed into civilian clothing to regain their control,” the official said.

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The agreement stipulates the full withdrawal of forces from both sides, he added. "The points are clear and that is to hand over the control of the ports and city to the official Yemeni government.”

“It reduces the chances of peace and reveals the real intentions of the militias and its relentless efforts to undermine the Stockholm agreement that was sponsored by the United Nations,” he said.

An official close to the government representatives in the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC), headed by Mr Cammaert, said the Houthi claims of a full withdrawal had been rejected and were an indicator of their desire to go around the ceasefire agreement signed in Stockholm.

For months the international community has been trying to halt a full-blown battle from taking place inside Hodeidah, an entry point for aid and commercial goods and a lifeline for millions of Yemenis who are on the verge of starvation.

Retired Dutch General Patrick Cammaert (C) arrives at the Yemeni port of Hodeidah on December 29, 2018. Cammaert is heading a joint truce monitoring committee, which includes both Yemeni government and Huthi rebel representatives, and chaired its first meeting this week. Yemeni rebels have begun to withdraw from the lifeline port of Hodeida, under an agreement reached in Sweden earlier this month, a UN official said Saturday. / AFP / ABDO HYDER
Retired Dutch General Patrick Cammaert arrives at the Yemeni port of Hodeidah on December 29, 2018. AFP

“The Houthis are in denial if they think that the Yemeni army and the National Resistance will accept any fighters to remain in the port city of Hodeidah,” Abdul Aziz Jubari, adviser to President Abdrabu Mansour Hadi said.

“Houthis must realise that what was agreed in Sweden was signed to be implemented peacefully,” Mr Jubari said on Twitter.

Although clashes have erupted since the ceasefire on December 18, the United Nations assessed that both sides have largely adhered to the truce, according to a report by Secretary General Antonio Guterres seen by The National.

Under the deal, international monitors are to be deployed to Hodeidah and the RCC will oversee implementation. The committee started its meetings last week.

A prisoner exchange agreement was also established as part of the Stockholm deal.

Yet a government official told The National that the agreement has been had “some complications”.

According to the officials, the rebels deny holding 2,946 of the 8,576 people on the list of prisoners whose release the government is seeking.

The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people and driven millions to starvation. The UN has called the crisis the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

Updated: December 31, 2018 07:42 AM

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