Yemen’s Houthi militia will on Saturday start to unilaterally redeploy forces out of three key ports, the United Nations and a Houthi spokesman said, a move labeled as misleading by the Yemeni government, who accuse the militia of violating and stalling a ceasefire agreement.
The statement from the UN’s Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) said the Houthis would make an “initial unilateral redeployment” between May 11 and May 14 from the ports of Saleef, which is used for grain, and Ras Isa, used for oil, as well as the country’s main port of Hodeidah.
The withdrawal would begin on May 11 at 10 a.m. (0700 GMT), the head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, said on Twitter on Saturday.
The RCC committee, led by Danish Lieutenant General Michael Lollesgaard, head of the UN observer team in Hodeidah, drew up the redeployment plans under a pact agreed last December in Stockholm, Sweden, the first major breakthrough in peace efforts.
At Stockholm, it was hoped the redeployment would happen in January, but its implementation has repeatedly stalled on a lack of trust between both sides.
The Houthis have been accused of violating the ceasefire in the port city of Hodeidah 970 times since it came into force on December 18.
The UN mission will monitor the redeployment, a first step towards concluding the peace agreement, the UN statement said, adding that it must be followed by “the committed, transparent and sustained actions of the parties to fully deliver on their obligations.”
The redeployment should allow the United Nations to take “a leading role in supporting the Red Sea Ports Corporation in managing the ports” and to enhance UN checks on cargoes.
The spokesman for the Yemeni government’s delegation to the RCC, Sadiq Dweid, said on Twitter that a Houthi withdrawal is “the first step of the first stage. We support the implementation of the agreement.”
Yemen’s Information Minister Moammar al-Eryani criticized the Houthi offer to redeploy on Twitter, calling it “misleading” and unacceptable if it did not allow for “joint monitoring and verification” as stipulated by the December pact.
The Arab Coalition has reported that the Houthis use the ports to smuggle weapons. The Iran-aligned Houthis say the government would try to choke them off if it gained control.
Yemeni government representative Dweid said his side would hold the United Nations responsible for implementing the December pact “as agreed in terms of verification, monitoring, and the removal of mines, obstacles and military installations”.
Last month UN special envoy Martin Griffiths told Reuters the Yemeni government and the Houthi militias had formally agreed a first phase of troop redeployments, while discussions were still underway for the second phase.