Yemen‘s Houthi rebels have started to redeploy inside the port city of Hodeidah as part of the United Nations-sponsored peace agreement signed in Sweden earlier this month, a UN source and a spokesperson for the group said on Saturday.
The Houthis have agreed with the Saudi-backed government to implement a ceasefire in Hodeidah city and withdraw their respective forces.
Pro-government forces are also supposed to pull back from parts of the city they recaptured in an offensive they launched with the backing of a Saudi-led coalition on June 13.
The Houthis began “the first phase of redeployment from the Hodeida port”, a rebel official told the Houthi-run Saba news agency.
Hodeidah’s Houthi governor, Mohammed Ayash Qaheem, told Reuters that the group’s fighters had withdrawn from the port as specified in the peace agreement, handing control to local units of Yemeni coast guards who were in charge of protecting ports before the war.
Retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert, the head of a UN advance team charged with monitoring the ceasefire, arrived in Hodeidah earlier this week.
Under the deal, international monitors are to be deployed in Hodeidah and a Redeployment Coordination Committee – represented by both sides and chaired by Cammaert – will oversee the implementation.
The committee started its meetings this week.
The UN-led panel addressed “the first phase of the implementation of the agreement… based on ceasefire, confidence building measures to deliver humanitarian assistance and redeployment”, a UN statement said.
It added that the panel would convene again on January 1 to discuss “detailed plans for full redeployment”.
A UN source said the Houthi forces, which control the city and its strategic port, had started to redeploy overnight.
It was unclear if the government forces, which control some southern parts of the city, had started to redeploy.
The agreement, the first significant breakthrough in peace efforts in five years, was part of confidence-building measures that aim to pave the way for a wider truce and a framework for political negotiations.
The truce came into force on December 18.
The war between the Houthi rebels and troops loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi escalated in March 2015, when he fled into Saudi exile and the Saudi-led coalition intervened.
Since then, the war has killed some 10,000 people, according to the World Health Organization, although human rights groups say the real death toll could be five times as high.
More than 22 million people – three quarters of the population – now depend on humanitarian assistance to survive.