Yemen war: Rebel withdrawal from key port disputed by government
Rebels forces said on Friday they were beginning a unilateral pullout from the key port of Hodeidah, a move observers hoped could save a fractured peace deal and bring an end to a civil war that has raged for four years.
If the conflict ends this year, the UN estimates that more than 100,000 will have died in the fighting and 131,000 will have lost their lives indirectly though lack of food, health services and infrastructure.
News agency AFP reported the United Nations had confirmed the withdrawal, while video footage obtained by the BBC showed Houthi forces setting off in trucks.
Reports also said Houthi troops had been seen leaving Saleef, another key port, and said these movements were also observed by the UN.
However Moammar al-Eryani, information minister for Yemen’s government, warned rebels might try to “mislead” the world, and suggested they may just be reshuffling personnel.
“We welcome any measures towards the implementation of the Sweden agreement on redeployment in ports in Hodeidah province and warn of attempts by the militia to mislead the international community and the [UN] Security Council before the next meeting,” Mr Eryani tweeted.
Over the past year Hodeidah has become the front line of the war between Iran-backed rebels and the Gulf-backed Yemeni government.
The fighting has prevented millions of people on the brink of famine from receiving vital resources, as the bulk of food and humanitarian aid to the war-torn country comes through the port.
A deal brokered by the UN in Sweden in December stipulated a retraction of all forces from three key Red Sea ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Isa as the first step to a longer comprehensive peace agreement.
General Michael Lollesgaard, the head of the UN redeployment committee, said if a withdrawal has begun, it should be completed by Tuesday. A UN observer mission led by him will monitor the movement of forces.
The war, sparked by Houthi rebels frustrated by corruption, unemployment, food insecurity and terror attacks under President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s leadership, has been named the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.