UN says pullout from key Yemen ports on track

HodeidaH: The United Nations said on Sunday that a Yemeni fighter withdrawal from key Red Sea ports was proceeding as planned, after the government accused insurgents of faking the pullout. The port of Hodeidah serves as a lifeline for millions in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country, which has been pushed to the brink of famine by more than four years of devastating war. Yemen’s government had accused fighters Sunday of a “policy of deception” after they announced the withdrawal in a long-delayed move agreed under a ceasefire deal last year.

But the UN, which said it had teams monitoring the Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Issa ports, later reported that the pullout had gone “in accordance with established plans”. It said the coastguard had taken over responsibility for security at the three sites after a Ansar Allah fighter withdrawal that had begun Saturday. Government officials had earlier cast doubts over the handover process, saying it was unclear who was taking control of the ports. The pullback is part of a truce agreement for Hodeidah brokered by the UN between government and the Ansar Allah fighters in December in Sweden. The city’s port is the conduit for the vast majority of aid and imports into Yemen.

But experts said it was too soon to say if the withdrawal represented genuine progress. “The (Sweden) agreement is very difficult to execute because the lines are blurry and each side interprets it the way it wants to,” said Yemen expert Farea al Muslimi, a visiting fellow at the London-based Chatham House think tank. “Overall, the next two weeks will show if this is a handover or a yet another hangover,” he said. Yemen’s information minister accused the fighters of faking the pullout. — AFP