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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 January 2019

Yemen government warns Houthis against failure to abide by Hodeidah deal

Rebels must withdraw “within days” or risk collapse of UN-brokered agreement

A Yemeni buys produce from a vegetable peddlar at a market in the Huthi-held Red Sea port city of Hodeida on December 14, 2018. / AFP / ABDO HYDER
A Yemeni buys produce from a vegetable peddlar at a market in the Huthi-held Red Sea port city of Hodeida on December 14, 2018. / AFP / ABDO HYDER

Yemen’s internationally recognised government warned on Saturday that a UN-brokered agreement for a ceasefire in Hodeidah would collapse if the Houthi rebels fail to start withdrawing their forces from the province in coming days.

The historic breakthrough was announced on Thursday at the end of a week of negotiations in Sweden, the first talks between the two sides since 2016.

“The next few days are crucial for the implementation of the ceasefire, if the Houthis refuse to leave Hodeidah then it will lead to the collapse of the agreement,” a source close to the government told The National.

The agreement stipulates that armed forces from both sides must withdraw from three key ports and the rest of the province before both government and rebel factions begin disengaging in Hodeidah city.

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Local forces will then take control the city and the ports, which will be under UN supervision.

The UN Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, told the Security Council on Friday that a team of experts is expected to reach Hodeidah this week to monitor the truce.

The Yemeni government source said the UN was preparing a resolution to implement the ceasefire, which will not be applied to the rest of the country.

The government expects the resolution to be enforced within a week.

“If the rebels fail to stick to what was agreed upon and withdraw from Hodeidah within the next few days then it will be the quickest breakdown of a UN-led deal in history,” the source said.

There were low expectations from the talks in Sweden, but they produced important gains towards building trust, reducing violence and the preparation of a political framework for lasting peace after more than three years of war.

The results came as a pleasant surprise for diplomats, but potential pitfalls will need urgent action by the UN if the deal is to hold until the next round of talks scheduled for late January.

According to Unicef, there are about 600,000 civilians in Hodeidah city, half of them children. Its port a vital humanitarian lifeline for the rest of country, which the UN warns is on the brink of famine.

Yemen’s Foreign Minister, Khalid Al Yamani, told The National after the announcement of the Hodeidah agreement that a military withdrawal from remained "hypothetical" until the rebels pull out.

Mr Al Yamani said the government and the Arab coalition supporting it would give the rebels 20 days to withdraw from Hodeidah and allow forces affiliated with the Yemeni government to deploy around the province.

Despite Houthi failures to abide by agreements reached in previous rounds of talks, diplomats remain hopeful.

Speaking to The National after the talks ended in Sweden, the US Ambassador to Yemen, Mathew Tuller, told The National that what had been achieved in Sweden would build the foundations for trust between the warring parties.

“The main obstacles that we saw, as expected, was the confidence between the two, so just bringing them here is part of the confidence-building measures,” he said.

The implementation of the Hodeidah deal, he said, will set the foundation for confidence so that the next time the two sides come together there will be agreements to build on.

“A little more trust, a little more confidence so step by step we hope to see this progress quickly bring out an end to the war,” Mr Tuller said.

The British ambassador to Yemen, Michael Aron, said he had no reason to believe the parties would go back on what was agreed in Sweden.

“Both parties came to Sweden and were negotiating in good faith and we expect them to implement what was agreed,” he told The National, and added that there would be a UN monitoring mechanism to make sure they did so.

“There’s a UN team that is currently being assembled that will be in Hodeidah as early as next week,” Mr Aron said.

Updated: December 15, 2018 06:36 PM

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