The government in Yemen and insurgent Al Houthi rebels have agreed on the first phase of a pullback of troops from the key city of Hodeida — a development that if indeed comes to fruition will bring meaningful progress there. The agreement was reached after two days of intensive talks between the government and the rebels. The talks were the fourth in a series since a tenuous ceasefire agreement came into effect on December 18.
If there is scepticism to this agreed pullback of forces, it is an element that has arisen from the past practices of Al Houthis, who set Yemen on this road to conflict more than three years ago by overthrowing the nation’s legitimate government. That is a conflict that has brought violence and deprivation to Yemenis — and every effort to find a peaceful and honourable solution has been undermined by Al Houthi intransigence and their failure to honour promises made and deals previously reached at the negotiating table.
For this pullout of forces to work, Al Houthis must keep their word. The rebels, from the very first rounds of talks brokered in Kuwait and then in Geneva, have failed to live by their commitments. Indeed, since the December 18 ceasefire came into effect, the breaches and derelictions have come from Al Houthi forces, whether that be through shelling, sniping or attacks on convoys that are clearly marked as carrying United Nations personnel.
Make no mistake, the importance of the port city cannot be understated. It is through this harbour that humanitarian aid, food and medical supplies are transported, and these supplies are vital to relieve the illness, malnutrition and deprivations brought by this Al Houthi-instigated conflict.
Hodeida is a lifeline, and as long as the rebels continue to imperil those key supplies, the situation remains critical — making it all the more incumbent on Al Houthis to abide by the terms of this troop withdrawal agreement. Failing to do so will disrupt desperately needed supplies, threatening the lives of millions of Yemenis who are in the throes of malnutrition.
Given all that is at stake for millions of people, the United Nations must ensure that this time around, Al Houthis keep their word, lower their weapons, withdraw from the port and allow the humanitarian lifeline to proceed without fear of intimidation, aggression or incident. Al Houthi intransigence or inaction is not an option now.