Houthis’ new demands over Hodeidah complicate UN task

The Houthis told Griffiths they want the reopening of Sana’a airport and the payment of salaries to state employees in areas under rebel control.
Friday 01/03/2019
UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths (C) is pictured at Sana’a’s international airport, February 28 (AFP)
UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths (C) is pictured at Sana’a’s international airport, February 28 (AFP)

ADEN - Iran-allied Houthi rebels recently made additional demands of UN Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths to be met before they comply with the Stockholm Agreement.

The Houthis told Griffiths they want the reopening of Sana’a airport and the payment of salaries to state employees in areas under rebel control.

Sources said Griffiths, who has met with rebel leaders three times in the last month, was trying to convince the Houthis to implement the first phase of the redeployment of forces in Hodeidah. That move has been delayed numerous times.

Under the Stockholm Agreement, fighters would redeploy outside Hodeidah’s ports and away from areas important to the humanitarian relief effort in Yemen, which has been devastated by famine and outbreaks of disease.

Observers said there is little chance of a breakthrough, given the complexities of the agreement, including disputes over who would handle security and administrative duties in vacated areas.

Griffiths had given an optimistic assessment to the UN Security Council, saying he hoped the redeployment would begin within days. However, the same day Griffiths reported to the Security Council, a report by Al Arabiya news channel quoted a government representative as saying the Houthis had “begun to obstruct and stall” implementation of the agreement with new conditions.

“The Yemeni government delegation holds the Houthis responsible for the Hodeidah redeployment not being implemented,” Sky News Arabia reported, citing Yemeni government sources.

Despite sporadic instances of fighting, the Hodeidah truce, which went into effect in December, has largely held. However, deadlines, including one February 25, for forces to withdraw from the port were missed because of what Griffiths called a “complex situation on the ground.”

Analysts said another round of UN-sponsored consultations is required to address gaps in the Stockholm Agreement, particularly aspects dealing with security concerns and who would manage the ports and areas subject to redeployment.

Yemeni military expert Colonel Yahya Abu Hatim said the Hodeidah redeployment plan could be implemented if the United Nations set a strict timetable for withdrawal.

Abu Hatim said the biggest obstacle in implementing the agreement — and specifically the part that deals with the Hodeidah redeployment — is the Houthi rebels’ concern about who would succeed them in Hodeidah once they leave.

Abu Hatim said there is no possibility of a Houthi withdrawal from Hodeidah and that the rebels’ stall tactics indicate the militia is trying to buy time to regroup militarily.

Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi said efforts to resolve the Yemeni conflict must address underlying issues. “A comprehensive solution to the situation in Yemen cannot succeed unless it looks at the root of the problem and its real causes,” Hadi posted on Twitter.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking February 26 at a Yemeni donor conference in Switzerland, announced that the United Nations gained access to the Red Sea Mills.

The United Nations has been trying since September to reach the mills, which include granaries in a government-controlled area estimated to hold enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month.

Herve Verhoosel, spokesman for the United Nations’ World Food Programme, told Agence France-Presse that an evaluation team had reached the warehouses near Hodeidah.

Guterres said pledges for humanitarian work in Yemen reached $2.6 billion, led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, which both pledged $500 million. The United Nations said the amount pledged this year was 30% more than a similar conference last year.

Saleh Baidhani is an Arab Weekly contributor in Yemen.