Dutch general Patrick Cammaert faces 'huge challenge' in Hodeidah

Known for his tough reputation, Cammaert is tasked with monitoring ceasefire in Hodeidah, withdrawal of warring sides.

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    Patrick Cammaert has a long and distinguished military career, having served in Sri Lanka, Cambodia and DR Congo [Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Reuters]
    Patrick Cammaert has a long and distinguished military career, having served in Sri Lanka, Cambodia and DR Congo [Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Reuters]

    United Nations, New York - The Dutch general tasked with monitoring the ceasefire in Hodeidah faces a daunting task in policing the government and rebel forces massed around Yemen's port city.

    Major General Patrick Cammaert will leave New York this week to travel to Yemen and oversee the truce between the Houthis and the Saudi Arabia-backed government after the two sides reached an agreement in Sweden last Thursday.

    "He's got a challenging road ahead and he will be working with both sides to figure out how to ensure the implementation of the ceasefire agreement and what the verification mechanisms are going to be," his colleague Sahr Muhammedally told Al Jazeera.

    Muhammedally, a Middle East expert at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, a campaign group of which Cammaert is also a board member, predicted tense talks between her colleague, a veteran peacekeeper, and the Houthis and the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

    "That's going to be a huge challenge. Will the internationally-recognised government allow the Houthis to have their forces to patrol Hodeidah and provide security? Will the Houthis allow government forces in?" asked Muhammedally.

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    Under the deal agreed in Sweden, the UN is responsible for setting up a Redeployment Coordination Committee to oversee the ceasefire and ensure troops vacate Hodeidah city and the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Isa.

    Tough reputation

    That committee will be led by Cammaert, a retired general with experience in Sri Lanka, Cambodia and DR Congo, where he was known for his tough approach during peacekeeping missions. 

    In 2005, Cammaert took command of the 15,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in eastern DRC, where he enforced a principle that "UN forces are impartial and not neutral".

    Speaking to the BBC in 2007, Cammaert said "Being neutral means that you stand there and you say 'Well, I have nothing to do with it', while being impartial means that you stand there, you judge the situation as it is and you take charge". His Eastern Division indeed took charge in the region, when, in early 2005 his troops killed 50 fighters in Ituri after losing nine of its own soldiers in an ambush.

    Under his mandate in Yemen deal, a yet-to-be-defined group of "local security forces" will be tasked with patrolling the city and ports.

    According to Muhammedally, Cammaert will likely struggle to find candidates for this force who are acceptable to the Houthis and the government. He may opt for a group of former police officers from the Hodeidah area, she said.

    "The composition of the internal security force will be a challenge," Muhammedally, a lawyer, told Al Jazeera.

    "Getting the right force, which is seen as legitimate by people in Hodeidah, is essential. The mandate, competencies and training to engage with civilians is also critical."

    'UN blue helmets will not be armed'

    The UN will convene Yemen's warring parties for the first meeting of a Redeployment Coordination Committee on Wednesday, to discuss the redeployment of all forces from the Hodeidah area, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday.

    "It will include military/security representatives from the two sides," Dujarric told reporters.

    After a week of UN-sponsored peace talks in Sweden, the Iran-aligned Houthi group and Saudi-backed Yemen government forces agreed last Thursday to cease fighting in the Red Sea city and withdraw forces. The truce began on Tuesday.

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    "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," Dujarric said.

    The security force will not be a UN blue helmet operation and its members "will not be armed," Dujarric said.

    Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is considering a resolution that asks UN chief Antonio Guterres to submit proposals by the end of the month on how to monitor the ceasefire and redeployment of forces.

    The draft resolution "calls on all parties to the conflict to take further steps to facilitate the unhindered flow of commercial and humanitarian supplies including food, fuel, medicine and other essential imports and humanitarian personnel into and across the country".

    Diplomats said it would likely be voted on later this week.

    The conflict has pushed Yemen, the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula, to the verge of famine, and millions of people rely on food aid.

    More than 80 percent of Yemen's imports used to come through Hodeidah port, but that has slowed to a trickle.

    UPFRONT: Is an end in sight for the war in Yemen?

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News