UN: Houthis withdraw from key Red Sea ports 'partly as agreed'

Armed group hands over security at ports to 'coastguard' in a diplomatic breakthrough after months of stalling.

    The Yemeni coastguard is in charge of security at three ports, according to the UN [Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters]
    The Yemeni coastguard is in charge of security at three ports, according to the UN [Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters]

    The United Nations has said Yemen's Houthi armed group has handed over security of three Red Sea ports to the "coastguard" under a peace deal that it hopes will pave the way for wider talks to resolve the conflict.

    "UN teams have been monitoring this redeployment which has been executed, partly as agreed by the Yemeni parties in the concept of phase one," the head of a UN mission to monitor the deal said in a statement on Tuesday.

    "There is still a lot of work to be done on the removal of the [military] manifestations, but cooperation has been very good," said Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard, head of the UN's Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC), after visiting the ports of Saleef, Ras Isa and Hodeidah.

    The pullout came as Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said seven drones carried out attacks on oil installations inside Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, heightening tensions in the region.  

    The Houthi withdrawal, which began on Saturday, is part of a hard-won agreement struck in Sweden between the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the armed group in December.

    The government backed by a Saudi-UAE coalition have been battling the Houthis since they toppled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power in 2014, embroiling Yemen in a devastating conflict.

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    Aerial attacks and ground fighting have caused what the UN called "the world's worst humanitarian crisis", with 3.3 million people displaced and 24.1 million in need of aid - more than two-thirds of the population.

    Aid, oil, commerce and grain

    Lollesgaard welcomed the handover of the ports used for aid, oil, commerce and grain to the local coastguard and urged the parties to finalise talks for full implementation of the December deal.

    On Sunday, Yemen's information minister accused the rebels of faking the pullout.

    "What the Houthi militia did is a repeated theatrical play of handing over control of the port to its own forces (in different uniforms)," Moammar al-Eryani said in a tweet.

    Delegations from the Yemeni government and the Houthis started talks on Tuesday in the Jordanian capital Amman to discuss the implementation of economic provisions of the Sweden deal.

    That included discussions on the management of revenues from the Red Sea ports and the use of the revenue to pay public sector salaries in the province and elsewhere in the country.

    The UN Security Council is due on Wednesday to hear a briefing on Hodeidah, Yemen's main port and a lifeline for millions of Yemenis on the brink of starvation, where a ceasefire has largely held, despite the continuation of violence elsewhere in the country.

    The UN's envoy for Yemen on Tuesday said he was "deeply concerned" about an escalation in fighting in recent weeks in al-Dhalea region and urged "utmost restraint" from all parties.

    "Any military escalation risks a setback in the progress towards peace," Martin Griffiths said in a tweet.

    SOURCE: News agencies