Yemen’s warring parties have agreed to a ceasefire in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah and its surrounding governorate, the UN secretary general has said, a major potential breakthrough at the end of a week of peace talks in Sweden.
Antonio Guterres said the agreement included the deployment of UN-supervised neutral forces and the establishment of humanitarian corridors. Troops from both sides will withdraw from the area. A political framework will be discussed in a next round of meetings, scheduled for January.
If implemented on the ground in the coming weeks, the deal would represent a breakthrough because the port is the gateway for the bulk of aid coming into the country, and has been the subject of intense fighting.
In Hodeidah, Salem Jaffer Baobaid, an aid worker with Islamic Relief, said: “It is much quieter today. We are not sure what is going to happen but any relief is welcome.”
Local resident Baseem al Janani added: “We have heard about the ceasefire but we are very cautious. Today the Houthis dug new trenches, closed off and emptied some neighbourhoods. They do not seem like they are going to stop fighting.”
Guterres thanked the delegations for what he called “an important step” and “real progress toward future talks to end the conflict”. The outcome of the talks in the Swedish town of Rimbo would mean “concrete results in the daily lives of Yemenis”, he said. He also announced the opening of humanitarian corridors to the besieged city of Taiz.
The UN-backed Yemeni government lost control of Hodeidah and the capital, Sana’a, to Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in 2015. Despite heavy Saudi and United Arab Emirate military support, the government, which is based in Aden, has been unable to win either city back.
Western backing for the Saudi-led war has frayed in the face of mass casualties, starvation and, more recently, allegations that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was instrumental in organising the killing of the Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.
The agreements, sealed with a handshake between the two sets of negotiators, include details of mass prisoner swaps and shoring up the country’s central bank, which should enable the payment of salaries to 1.2 million public sector workers.
The plan raises questions about the capacity of the UN to run Hodeidah port. If it fails, the risk remains that fighting for control of the port will continue. The port is the entry point for most aid into the country, and nearly 27% of the Houthi income comes from the port.
Gutteres and the UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, flew to Sweden to attend the final day of the talks as part of an attempt to drive the two negotiating teams to a fuller agreement.
The UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, had never intended to reach a political settlement in these round of talks, the first since 2016. He will present the outcome of the talks to a meeting of the UN security council later on Thursday.
Guterres said he hoped a robust UN security council resolution could be quickly passed to monitor and verify the withdrawal of troops from Hodeidah, adding he was confident of US support.
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