UNITED NATIONS, United States - Yemen’s government and Huthi rebels have agreed on a preliminary compromise for redeploying their forces from the port city of Hodeida, the UN said Thursday, shoring up a truce deal that marks the first step toward ending the devastating war.
The pullback from Hodeida was initially agreed under the ceasefire deal reached in December in Sweden. But deadlines for both sides to move their forces away from the ports and parts of city were missed.
Following three rounds of talks aboard a UN ship in Hodeida’s harbour, a proposal was put forward by Danish General Michael Lollesgaard, who heads a UN observer mission, "that proved acceptable, in principle," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
"A preliminary compromise was agreed, pending further consultation by the parties with their respective leaders," said Dujarric.
The two sides are to meet again next week to finalize details for the redeployment, if the compromise is endorsed by the Huthi and government leadership.
The ceasefire and the redeployment of forces agreed in Stockholm have been hailed as a major step toward ending Yemen’s nearly four-year war that has left millions on the brink of famine.
UN officials however have warned the peace gains are fragile.
The first phase of the redeployment from the ports of Hodeida, Saleef, Ras Issa and from parts of the city where there are humanitarian facilities was scheduled to happen two weeks after the ceasefire went into force on December 18.
But that deadline was missed as the government and Huthis haggled over the interpretation of the agreement.
The Red Sea port is the entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s imported goods and humanitarian aid, providing a lifeline to millions in the Arab world’s poorest country.
Access to grain silos
While there was some progress on the pullback of forces, UN efforts to gain access to a food storage site in Hodeida that could feed millions of Yemenis hit a wall.
UN aid chief Mark Lowcock urged the Huthis to allow relief groups to cross front lines "in the coming days" to reach the Red Sea Mills, which are located in a government-controlled area of Hodeida.
The Red Sea Mills silos are believed to contain enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month but the granary has remained off-limits to aid organisations for more than four months.
The Huthis are refusing to allow UN aid agencies to cross front lines and reach the Red Sea Mills, because of security concerns, said Lowcock, who deplored that a solution remained "elusive" despite many rounds of talks.
"Access to the mills grows ever more urgent as time passes and the risk of spoilage to the remaining grain increases," said Lowcock in a statement.
UN-led talks on a prisoner swap involving thousands of detainees on both sides were continuing in Jordan, the UN spokesman said, adding that it was a "good sign" that the negotiations were ongoing.
Yemen’s rebels have been mired in a war with government forces backed since 2015 by a Saudi-led coalition.
The United Nations has described Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian emergency, with 10 million people on the brink of famine. – VNS