Yemen rivals meet on board vessel for talks on Hodeidah pullback

Under Stockholm truce, Houthi rebel and government representatives are tasked with withdrawing forces from key city.

Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard, head of the U.N.''s Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) arrives to a news conference in the Hodeida port
Lieutenant-General Michael Lollesgaard arrives to a news conference in the Hodeidah port [Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters]

Yemen’s warring parties have agreed to new measures to enforce a ceasefire and facilitate a troop pullback from the flashpoint port of Hodeidah, the United Nations said on Monday.

Representatives of the Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government met on a UN ship in the Red Sea for talks on Sunday and Monday, the organisation said in a statement.

The UN is trying to broker a withdrawal from Hodeidah – the main entry point for food and humanitarian aid – so UN-supervised management can take over.

Yemen’s four-year war has killed tens of thousands of people and left millions on the brink of famine.

The statement said both sides want to reduce hostilities after a rise in ceasefire violations at Hodeidah.

“They agreed on a mechanism and new measures to reinforce the ceasefire and de-escalation, to be put in place as soon as possible,” it said, without giving more details.

The two sides met as members of the Redeployment Coordination Committee, a body set up by the UN and chaired by Danish Lieutenant-General Michael Lollesgaard to oversee the ceasefire and troop exit.

The committee finalised a conceptual agreement on troop withdrawals, which now requires political leaders’ buy-in, the statement said.

Political leaders would also have to agree on “local security forces, local authority and revenues”, the statement said, without elaborating.

Withdrawing forces

The meetings, which were last held in February, kicked off on Sunday at the Antarctic Dream vessel in the Red Sea, some 30km off Hodeidah on Yemen’s western coast.

The UN chartered the vessel as neutral territory between the two rival sides to hold the two-day meetings.

The government and the Houthis are tasked with withdrawing forces from Hodeidah as part of the ceasefire deal that was reached last December in Sweden’s capital, Stockholm.

The pullback was supposed to have taken place two weeks after the ceasefire went into force on December 18, but that deadline was missed.

In May, the UN announced the rebels had withdrawn from Hodeidah and two other nearby ports, the first practical step on the ground since the ceasefire deal.

But the government accused the militia of faking the pullout, saying it had merely handed control to its allies.

Lollesgaard confirmed in June there had been no Houthi military presence in all three ports since their withdrawal a month before.

Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard, head of the U.N.'s Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) speaks during a news conference in the Hodeida port
Lollesgaard, head of the UN’s Redeployment Coordination Committee, speaks in Hodeidah [Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters]

Separately, the Saudi Vice Minister of Defence Khalid bin Salman met UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths on Monday, and stressed Saudi support for a political solution in Yemen.

The vice minister said in a tweet that he met the special envoy to “emphasize our commitment to the wellbeing of the Yemeni people, and the need to end Iran’s interference in Yemen. I also stressed our support for a political solution, and the need for the Houthis to implement their signed agreements, including Stockholm.”

Aid entry point

The UN is hoping that de-escalation in Hodeidah will allow desperately needed food and medical aid to reach millions in need in Yemen.

The Red Sea port is the entry point for the bulk of imported goods and relief aid to Yemen, which the UN has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The conflict in Yemen broke out in late 2014 when Houthi rebels seized much of the country, including the capital, Sanaa.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the Saudi-UAE-led military coalition intervened in support of the beleaguered government in March 2015, according to the World Health Organization.

The fighting has also forced millions from their homes and left 24.1 million – more than two-thirds of the population – in need of aid.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies