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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 January 2019

Yemen war: UN to convene Yemen rivals by video link regarding Hodeidah ceasefire

Truce is holding but UN monitors are yet to reach flashpoint port city

A fighter loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni president walks down a street in the town of Khokha in the western province of Hodeidah. AFP
A fighter loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni president walks down a street in the town of Khokha in the western province of Hodeidah. AFP

A joint committee that includes the United Nations and all sides in the Yemen conflict will convene via video link on Wednesday to begin overseeing the Hodeidah ceasefire and discuss next steps, UN officials and sources told The National, as the truce held despite isolated incidents.

The parties are to discuss the redeployment of military forces from Hodeidah and three Red Sea ports, as agreed under a deal struck last week at peace talks in Sweden.

“It will include military/security representatives from the two sides,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, said of the Redeployment Coordination Committee consultations.

The ceasefire began at midnight on Tuesday in Hodeidah. Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy to Yemen, has said a robust monitoring regime is urgently needed to ensure the implementation of and compliance with the agreement. A UN source said earlier that the committee would “start to monitor to see if the two sides have breached the agreement”.

It was also announced that an undisclosed number of UN observers who are due to head to Yemen will not be a uniformed “Blue Helmet” style force. Dutchman Patrick Cammaert, a retired major general with extensive experience of UN peacekeeping operations, who will lead the monitoring team but has yet to leave New York, will lead Wednesday's video conference.

Last week's UN-brokered talks between Yemen’s internationally recognised government and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, concluded with them agreeing to the truce in Hodeidah, the country's vital Red Sea port city. The second phase will see ports handed over to the UN and the third will see both sides withdraw from the city and its surroundings.

“The full mutual redeployment of all forces from the city of Hodeidah and the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa shall be completed within a maximum period of 21 days after the ceasefire enters into force,” Mr Dujarric said on Tuesday.

No one is more committed to progress in Yemen than the UN Secretary General, who is “breathing down the throat” of the necessary officials “to make sure they [UN observers] are deployed as soon as possible” to monitor the ceasefire, Mr Dujarric added.

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Read more:

Observers fear Hodeidah deal may not lead to end of Yemen's war

Yemen: Hodeidah ceasefire is working, says UN envoy Martin Griffiths

War-ridden Yemen's other frontline - the central bank

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Late on Monday, the UN Security Council circulated a draft resolution that asks Mr Guterres to submit proposals by the end of the month on how to monitor the ceasefire agreement.

"It gives the necessary procedural guidance on how things are going to work in Hodeidah and how matters will be organised there," a diplomatic source told The National.

The draft is to be discussed at expert level on Tuesday before reaching the Security Council later this week.

"We want to get it done in the next couple of days," the source added.

The numbers of UN personnel and their powers are still to be negotiated among Security Council members, a diplomatic source who has seen the Yemen resolution and its terms said.

“The draft endorses the agreements reached in Stockholm and sets out steps required to improve the humanitarian situation,” the source added.

A fighter loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni president walks down a street in the town of Khokha in the western province of Hodeidah. AFP
A Yemeni fighter loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni president walks down a street in the town of Khokha in the western province of Hodeidah on December 18. AFP

On Monday night, Mr Griffiths said that UN agencies have detailed plans on how to oversee the port facilities and described the deal as a humanitarian agreement.

Yemeni government officials said that clashes took place up to and directly after the agreement came into force at midnight local time.

“After clashes during the first hour or so, the agreement seems to have come in to place and has held in the Red Sea city,” said the government official.

Around midday on Tuesday, Mr Griffiths said skirmishes took place between 1am and 2am local time at the frontline but, so far, the truce was holding.

“I’m remarkably familiar with ceasefires that don’t work and this one does seem to be working so far,” he told the BBC. “It is the first time the skies have been quiet over Hodeidah for many, many months. So far, so good. Fingers crossed.”

On the ground, people in Yemen said they were mostly optimistic that the ceasefire would hold but warned that it was a crucial time, especially for the Houthis.

Raed Ali Shayef, a local journalist, cautioned against optimism. "The ceasefire will last for just [a few] days and no more,” he predicted. “The Houthis will make use of it to take a rest and to regroup their fighters and then they will resume the war because they won’t ever accept handing the city and its ports over as they realize that losing the city of Hodeidah over cuts their supply lines."

But Brigadier Naser Salem Al Radfani, a high ranking commander in the Southern Public Resistance, said on Tuesday that he expects the ceasefire in Hodeidah to go on without any significant violation for a number of reasons. He said the rebels are too weak from recent battles in the city and that it was too risky for them to break the calm because of the tight line held around the city by coalition-backed forces. “The ceasefire is a lifeline to stop them drowning,” he said.

Col Mohammed Hizam from the Yemeni army in Aden said he was hopeful about the ceasefire. "I am sure the ceasefire will be achieved because the Houthis see that it came to save them. It doesn't include any other fighting areas so the Houthis see it such a big victory for them. Now they can feel safe after they were drawing their last breath in the city."

Updated: December 19, 2018 09:25 AM

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