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Yemen peace talks make progress in Hodeidah

February 7, 2019

A preliminary agreement on moving fighters out of the port city of Hodeidah is to be discussed by rival Houthi and Yemen government leaders. The block on humanitarian aid remains a huge problem.

Houthi militants in Hodeidah in December
Image: Reuters/A. Zeyad

Houthi rebels and the Yemen government agreed on Thursday to a preliminary deal to move fighters out of the port city of Hodeidah.

The four days of talks were held on board the neutral venue of a UN-chartered boat anchored in the Red Sea, because of the distrust between the two sides.

The outgoing head of the UN mission in Yemen, Patrick Cammaert, a retired Dutch general, chaired the meetings between military leaders from Yemen's Saudi-backed government and Houthi Shiite rebels, as part of the process to end the conflict that began in 2014.

Without giving details, Cammaert said the head of the UN monitoring mission "tabled a proposal that proved acceptable, in principle ... pending further consultations by the parties with their respective leaders."

Further discussions are expected "within the next week, with the aim of finalizing details for redeployments."

The four days of talks came out of December's meeting between the warring parties in Sweden, which outlined a ceasefire and the redeployment of forces out of Hodeidah city and port, with a new security force taking their place to ensure movement of humanitarian supplies.

Displaced children waiting for water in a camp in Hajjah province
Displaced children waiting for water in a camp in Hajjah provinceImage: Getty Images/AFP/E. Ahmed

Aid holdup

The UN's humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock reported Thursday on efforts to reach 12 million people in Yemen with emergency food this year; a 50 percent increase on last year.

Lowcock said the Red Sea Mills in a government-controlled area of Hodeida had enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month. But since September, the UN has been unable to access the supplies. In December, two silos were hit by mortar shells and the resulting fire destroyed "probably enough to feed hundreds of thousands of people for a month."

The UN has been refused access to the mills by Houthi rebels, and Lowcock called on them to "finalize an agreement and facilitate access to the mills in the coming days."

There is ongoing distrust between the warring sides and their allies. The Saudis and the United Arab Emirates, who back the Yemeni government forces, doubt that the Houthis, supported by Iran, will abide by the Stockholm agreement or leave Hodeidah, where they can raise taxes and control food and commercial supplies.

jm/aw (AP, AFP)

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