Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Yemen government and Houthi rebels board UN ship to discuss Hodeidah troop withdrawal

UN envoy to Yemen heads to Riyadh to meet President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi

Lt Gen Michael Lollesgaard, right, talks to officials aboard a UN boat on which the Yemeni government and rebels were due to meet on Sunday, July 14, 2019. Ali Mahmood
Lt Gen Michael Lollesgaard, right, talks to officials aboard a UN boat on which the Yemeni government and rebels were due to meet on Sunday, July 14, 2019. Ali Mahmood

Negotiators from Yemen’s internationally recognised government and Houthi rebels boarded a UN ship in the Red Sea on Sunday to resume talks on a troop withdrawal from the port city of Hodeidah.

Both parties joined UN representatives to discuss a pullback of government and Houthi forces from Hodeidah under a deal reached during UN-led talks in December.

“The joint meeting on Hodeidah will officially start on Sunday night and will continue until Monday on the ship,” a UN official told The National.

The government delegation, led by Maj Gen Saghir Aziz, arrived at the Antarctic Dream on Sunday morning, a Yemeni government official said.

It is the first time Yemen’s warring sides have met to discuss the Hodeidah troop withdrawal in almost two months.

“The meeting will be held in international waters because the Houthis have blocked vital entrances in to the port city,” the government official said.

The ship is expected to sail 30 kilometres into the Red Sea, said a spokesman for the pro-government forces in Hodeidah, Col Wathah Al Dubaish.

Sunday’s meeting will be monitored by the UN’s Redeployment Co-ordination Committee led by Danish Lt Gen Michael Lollesgaard, who leads the UN observer team in Hodeidah.

The agreement on a ceasefire and troop withdrawal in Hodeidah at the talks in Stockholm, Sweden, last year marked the first major breakthrough in peace efforts since the civil war began in 2015.

But its implementation has been patchy and the government has accused the rebels of trying to undermine the agreement.

Meanwhile, the UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, went to Saudi Arabia on Sunday evening to meet Yemen’s President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, after being accused of being biased towards the Houthis.

Mr Griffith brokered the ceasefire and troop withdrawal agreement during the peace talks in Sweden.

“The visit to Riyadh will be the special envoy’s second trip in nearly a month to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” a UN official said.

Mr Hadi and Mr Griffiths are expected to discuss the implementation of the Stockholm agreement, said the official.

The Iran-backed rebels recently intensified attacks on sites in Hodeidah in a move the government considers an attempt to derail efforts to co-ordinate peace talks with the UN.

Fighting continues in other parts of Yemen, with the rebels attacking pro-government forces in the southern city of Taez on Sunday morning.

“Houthi rebels launched a sudden attack on sites controlled by Al Amalikah forces in Al Bareh district, in southern Taez, so our forces retaliated, killing eight and injuring dozens of Houthi fighters,” said Aseel Al Sakladi, a spokesman for Al Amalikah.

Updated: July 15, 2019 11:00 AM

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