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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 16 February 2019

Yemen rivals to meet at sea as peace deal hits crisis

Meeting on boat between government and Houthi officials planned in the ‘coming days’

Yemeni forces patrol ahead of arrival of the motorcade of UN special envoy Martin Griffiths at Sana'a airport. EPA
Yemeni forces patrol ahead of arrival of the motorcade of UN special envoy Martin Griffiths at Sana'a airport. EPA

Officials from Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels are to meet at sea to try and end their differences over a stumbling ceasefire in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, the main plank of a UN-brokered peace process, diplomats said on Thursday.

The plan was revealed during a closed-doors briefing to the Security Council by Patrick Cammaert, the outgoing head of the UN’s observer mission in Yemen, following widespread concern about an escalation in the conflict.

It is understood that the meeting at sea was suggested because the parties could not agree on where to convene on land, such is the degree to which territory is in dispute in and around Hodeidah and its governorate.

“There will be a meeting, on a vessel, in the coming days,” Mansour Al Otaibi, Kuwait’s permanent representative to the UN, told reporters after consultations on Yemen had ended, referring to what Mr Cammaert had said via video link to the Council.

“He was optimistic that the agreement is holding. I can say that the Council is united in this message. There are violations here and there.. but that is message we heard today,” Mr Al Otaibi added of the ceasefire.

The truce was the main achievement in peace talks held in December in Sweden, which culminated in a deal known as the Stockholm agreement.

Mr Cammaert, a retired Dutch general, chaired two meetings of a joint Redeployment Coordination Committee set up to ensure the ceasefire – which formally came into force on December 18 – is enacted by both sides.

But the committee has not convened in three weeks after trust broke down between 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 suffering from hunger.

Mr Cammaert was giving his last briefing to the Council. He is soon to be replaced as head of the observer mission by Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard, of Denmark.

Martin Griffiths, the UN Secretary General’s special envoy to Yemen, also spoke during Thursday’s Security Council session, hours after indicating that peace efforts were in trouble. He appealed to both sides in the conflict to refrain from military action.

“Deeply concerned about recent hostilities in #Yemen, the SE calls on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and de-escalate tensions. What we need now is speedy redeployments according to an RCC plan,” said a tweet from Mr Griffiths’s office.

He and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres have led diplomatic efforts to sustain the Stockholm agreement. The talks in Sweden were the first significant effort at peace between Yemen’s government, and the rebels who have been at war for almost four years.

Mr Cammaert’s monitoring team is the vanguard of the UN’s effort to keep the peace in Hodeidah. The ceasefire does not apply elsewhere in Yemen.

There have been multiple breaches of the ceasefire by the rebels, diplomats admit, but the UN has been trying to save the Stockholm agreement in recent days.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash met the UN Secretary General in New York ahead of the Security Council meeting.

Speaking afterwards, he told The National: “We were very encouraged.”

The coalition has been frustrated by breaches of the ceasefire and Dr Gargash earlier said its forces had struck 10 Houthi training camps outside Hodeidah governorate on Wednesday.

“Coalition prepared to use more calibrated force to prod Houthi compliance with Stockholm Agreement,” he tweeted.

Updated: February 1, 2019 04:38 AM

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