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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 16 February 2019

Yemen government to meet Houthi rebels on Sunday

Patrick Cammaert met government delegation at undisclosed location in Red Sea

Soldiers of the Saudi-backed coalition in Yemen stand guard in the port city of Hodeidah.  AFP
Soldiers of the Saudi-backed coalition in Yemen stand guard in the port city of Hodeidah.  AFP

A Yemen government delegation was met at an undisclosed location in the Red Sea by the head of the UN's observer mission in preparation for a make or break meeting as early as Sunday with Houthi rebels to try to save the Hodeidah ceasefire.

A UN official in New York confirmed on Saturday that General Patrick Cammaert had boarded a vessel in Hodeidah and sailed to a rendezvous point, where he picked up the Yemen government officials.

“General Cammaert and the delegation returned to an anchor point in the inner port of Hodeidah and will be joined tomorrow by the delegation of the Houthis,” a UN statement said.

“The parties will then resume joint discussions on the implementation of the redeployment of forces and the facilitation of humanitarian operations, as agreed in the Stockholm Agreement,” it added, referring to a deal struck after talks in December in Sweden between Yemen's government and the Houthis that diplomats hope is a first step towards peace.

That effort at ending the country's almost four-year war has foundered in recent weeks after repeated breaches of the declared Hodeidah ceasefire, which formally came into force on December 18, but has been under jeopardy throughout because of violence in and around the Red Sea port city.

Late on Thursday, diplomats at the UN in New York revealed plans for the meeting at sea, following a Security Council briefing given by Mr Cammaert, a retired Dutch general who has been in Yemen since December 22 as head of the UN effort to enforce the ceasefire, which applies only in Hodeidah and not the rest of the country. The Security Council meeting was called after widespread belief that the ceasefire was about to fold and herald a new escalation in the conflict.

Mr Cammaert chairs a joint Redeployment Co-ordination Committee set up to ensure the ceasefire is enacted by both sides.

But the group has not met since its second gathering on January 3, after trust broke down between representatives of the government and the rebels following repeated breaches of the truce in Hodeidah.

The main issue in dispute is how each side can replace their respective troops and fighters in and around the city with mutually agreed local forces. The intent is for the UN to then oversee operations at Hodeidah port, the main entry route to Yemen for aid and vital supplies, and two other ports, to speed up a much needed humanitarian relief effort. An estimated 80 per cent of Yemen’s people are going hungry.

Mr Cammaert is soon to be replaced as head of the UN observer mission by Lt Gen Michael Lollesgaard, of Denmark.

Yemen's government is backed by a Saudi-led Arab coalition, which in a letter to the UN last week registered its concerns about “persistent and deliberate” violations of the ceasefire by the Houthis.

Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, met UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York on Thursday before the Security Council briefing and said he was encouraged by the talks. He later said that the Hodeidah truce was at a “critical juncture”.

"We have a distinct opportunity to address the Yemen crisis," Dr Gargash said on Twitter.

"The UN role is critical," he continued, noting that the Arab Coalition members will continue to support the UN and its work.

"We must make Stockholm work," Dr Gargash added.

Before the Security Council meeting on Thursday, UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths expressed concern about the fate of the ceasefire and called for restraint all sides.

In its letter, the coalition said that the rebels committed 1,038 violations of the truce deal during the six weeks it has been in force and had also strengthened their military positions among civilian populations.

Updated: February 3, 2019 05:53 PM

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