Sana’a: Security officials say Yemen’s Iran-allied Al Houthi militiamen have handed over control of the main port in the Red Sea city of Hodeida to the government’s navy and coast guard.
They said Saturday’s transfer was carried out under the supervision of UN monitors as part of a deal reached in peace talks in Sweden earlier this month.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief the media.
Retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert, the head of the UN advance team charged with monitoring the ceasefire, arrived in Hodeida this week.
Under the deal, international monitors are to be deployed in Hodeida and a Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) including both sides, chaired by Cammaert, will oversee implementation. The committee started its meetings this week.
A UN source said Al Houthi forces, which control the city and its strategic port, had started to redeploy overnight.
“Our forces have started to redeploy since last night from Hodeida port, as agreed in Sweden,” an Al Houthi military spokesman told the group’s Al Masirah TV.
Al Houthis’ withdrawal from the province’s three ports of Hodeida, Salif and Rass Eisa is intended to be the first step in the implementation of the agreement, to be followed by both sides pulling their forces out of the city and the surrounding province.
It is still unclear how far they will withdraw and who will control the three ports and the city, or if the two sides will share control with UN monitors positioned between the two fronts.
Cammaert’s team will not be uniformed or armed, the UN has said, but it will provide support for the management of and inspections at the ports and strengthen the UN presence in the city.
Military officials from the government forces, which control some southern parts of the city, said they needed time to establish if Al Houthi forces had really withdrawn from the ports.
“They may be just replacing their men with others from the so-called coast guard forces,” one official said.
The agreement, the first significant breakthrough in peace efforts in five years, was part of confidence-building measures intended to pave the way for a wider truce and a framework for political negotiations.
The international community has been trying for months to avert a all-out government assault on Hodeida, the entry point for most of Yemen’s commercial goods and aid supplies, and a lifeline for millions of Yemenis on the verge of starvation.
The truce came into force on December 18.
On Friday, the United Nations said both parties had agreed to begin opening humanitarian corridors, starting with the key coastal road between Hodeida and Al Houthi-held capital, Sana’a.
The parties are due to present detailed plans for a full redeployment to Cammaert at the next RCC meeting on January 1, the United Nations said in a statement.
Yemen plunged into civil war in 2014 when the rebels captured the capital Sana’a. They now control most of northern Yemen, including Hodeida. A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting on the government side since 2015.
The talks in Sweden also produced a deal on the exchange of thousands of prisoners of war from both sides.