Hodeida - Yemen’s Iran-backed Al Houthi militia on Saturday started withdrawing forces from Saleef port in Hodeida province under a United Nations-sponsored peace deal that had been stalled for months, a Reuters witness said.
The move, which has yet to be verified by the UN and accepted by the Saudi-led coalition, is the first major step in implementing a deal reached by the Saudi-backed government and Al Houthis for a ceasefire and troop withdrawal in Hodeida last year, part of international efforts to end the four-year conflict.
Any unilateral redeployment, which does not allow oversight and joint verification of the Sweden agreement, trickery.
Yemen’s internationally-recognised government on Saturday cast doubts on Al Houthis’ move. Yemeni Information Minister Moammar Al Eryan called the militant move “inaccurate and misleading”.
“Any unilateral redeployment, which does not allow oversight and joint verification of implementing provisions of the Sweden agreement, is procrastination and unacceptable trickery,” Al Eryan said in a tweet.
The UN–brokered Sweden pact was seen as the first real successful agreement between the Yemeni government backed by a Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-aligned Al Houthi extremists.
However, over the past five months, Al Houthis have blocked moves to put the deal into effect and repeatedly violated a truce in Hodeidah.
The Red Sea city is strategically important for Yemen because of its main port, through which most the poor country’s imports and humanitarian aid enter. Hodeida has been under Al Houthi control since late 2014.
UN teams were overseeing Al Houthi redeployment in Saleef, used for grain, as other teams headed to the second port of Ras Eisa, used for oil, to start implementing Al Houthi withdrawal from there, according to the witness.
“The coast guards have taken over in Saleef,” said the witness, who was at the port.
The UN’s Redeployment Coordination Committee said earlier in a statement that Al Houthis would make an “initial unilateral redeployment” between May 11 and May 14 from Saleef and Ras Eisa as well as the country’s main port of Hodeida.
2014the year when Al Houthis took control of Yemen’s Hodeida port
It said the redeployment would allow the United Nations to take “a leading role” in supporting the Red Sea Ports Corporation in managing the ports and enhance UN checks on cargoes.
There has been no comment so far from the Saudi-led military coalition that has massed forces outside Hodeida.
Hodeida has become the focus of the war since last year, when the coalition twice tried to take back its port to cut off Al Houthis’ main supply line.
The peace deal had stalled since January amid deep mistrust between both sides in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands and pushed the Arabian peninsula nation to the brink of famine.
It calls for coalition forces to leave positions around the outskirts of Hodeida in the initial redeployment, before a second phase in which both sides pull back further.
Yemen’s conflict erupted after Al Houthis unseated the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and overran parts of the country, including the capital Sana’a in December 2014.
In March, 2015, an Arab alliance led by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, intervened in Yemen in response to a request from the Hadi government after Al Houthis advanced on the southern city of Adan, the country’s provisional capital.
– With inputs from Ramadan Al Sherbini, Correspondent