UNITED NATIONS, United States — The United Nations will put forward a new plan for the pullback of forces from Yemen’s flashpoint city of Hodeida to the government and Houthi rebels, a UN envoy said Tuesday.
The redeployment of forces was agreed in December under a ceasefire deal reached in Sweden that offered the best hope in years of moving towards an end to the war that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
“Following constructive discussions with both parties, there is significant progress towards an agreement to implement phase one of the redeployments of the Hodeida agreement,” said a statement from Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy for Yemen.
“Operational details will be presented to the parties in the Redeployment Coordination Committee [RCC] for endorsement shortly,” he added.
The RCC, chaired by Danish Gen. Michael Lollesgaard, was set up under the Stockholm deal to bring the government and the Houthis to the table to hammer out details of the ceasefire deal.
The UN envoy’s statement did not give a date for the start of the pullback, which would mark the first concrete step towards de-escalation in Hodeida.
Griffiths said he “looks forward to the swift endorsement of the plan” and expressed hope that a deal would pave the way to a broader political settlement to end the war.
The United Nations announced a deal on the two-stage pullback from Hodeida city and its ports on February 17, but the redeployment failed to materialise on the ground and the peace effort appeared to run out of steam.
One step at a time
According to UN diplomats, the Houthis have refused to pull away from the ports as part of the first stage, citing fears that forces linked to the Saudi-led coalition will move in to take over those facilities.
Griffiths and Lollesgaard have been holding talks with all sides to overcome the final hurdles, but the United Nations sounded a cautious note about the latest developments.
“I don’t want to sound over-confident about this,” said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.
“Whether we can get to actually having the withdrawals to occur, that remains to be seen. We are moving one step at a time.”
The Red Sea port of Hodeida is the entry point for the bulk of imported goods and relief aid to Yemen.
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to push back an advance by Houthi rebels who continue to hold the capital Sanaa, and restore President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power.
The conflict has unleashed the world’s worst humanitarian conflict, according to the United Nations, with millions facing famine.
Since the Stockholm agreement three months ago, the UN envoy has struggled to turn details of that deal into reality on the ground, and several deadlines have been missed.
Aside from the redeployment, the Houthis and the government agreed to an exchange of thousands of prisoners from the war and to hold talks on the future of the city of Taez, which is beseiged by the Houthis.