The United Nations said yesterday that a Yemeni rebel 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 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 rebels yesterday 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 Houthi rebel withdrawal that had begun on 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 Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and the Houthi rebels 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 rebels of faking the pullout.
“What the Houthi militia did is a repeated theatrical play of handing over control of the port to its own forces (in different uniforms),” Moammer al-Eryani tweeted yesterday.
“This shows its continued manipulation and evasion to implement the Sweden agreement...by adopting a policy of deception.”
Sources close to the Houthis said the ports were handed over to coastguard personnel who were in charge before the rebels took over Hodeidah almost five years ago.
Hodeidah saw fierce clashes from June last year as pro-government forces surged up the coast into Houthi-held territory and briefly seized the city’s airport.
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