UN deminers in Yemen start clearing Hodeidah ports as Houthis withdraw

The UN will now work to restore full functionality to the critical aid corridor through the ports

epa07567966 Members of local coast guard forces patrol at the port of Hodeidah, two days after Houthi militiamen withdrew from it, in the war-torn city of Hodeidah, Yemen, 13 May 2019. According to reports, the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government began fresh UN-sponsored talks in Jordan, two days after the Houthis began withdrawing from the ports of the western city of Hodeidah under a UN-brokered Hodeidah peace deal.  EPA/STR
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A team of UN deminers began clearing thousands of landmines and explosives planted by Houthis around the ports of Hodeidah on Monday, as the rebel withdrawal from the three Red Sea ports continues, according to the spokesman for the pro-government forces in Hodeidah.

"A UN team has already started clearing and dismantling a huge number of landmines and explosives," Col Wathah Al Dubaish told The National. "Clearance operation will need more than two days to be finished due to the large number mines."

The UN is overseeing the Houthi withdrawal from three critical Red Sea ports, through which 80 per cent of Yemen’s assistance is delivered. The withdrawal is a critical part of the Stockholm agreement, reached between Yemen’s government and the rebels, which aims to bring an end to a four-year conflict that has brought the country to the brink of famine.

The head of the UN official overseeing the withdrawal, Lieut Gen Michael Lollesgaard, said on Monday: “All three ports were monitored simultaneously by UN teams as the military forces left the ports and the coast guard took over responsibility for security.”

After the UN mine clearance is finished, government monitors will be allowed to visit the ports to verify that the withdrawal process.

Houthi rebels planted about 3,500 mines and improvised explosive devices in Hodeidah port, Colonel AlDubaish claimed, and an estimated 6,000 in Al Saleef and Ras Issa, the two other nearby ports involved in the withdrawal agreement.

Mine clearance around the ports should facilitate the safe delivery of food assistance to Yemen, said UN Development Programme, which will now work to re-open the ports.

“UNDP is drawing upon our extensive experience, as well as national and international expertise, to ensure we can fully restore the functionality of the Hodeidah ports as soon as possible,” said Auke Lootsma, the agency’s resident Representative in Yemen.

Despite the ongoing withdrawal from Hodeidah, fighting has continued elsewhere in Yemen.

Houthi rebels reportedly shelled the village of Al Wabeh, near the town of Qatabah in Al Dhalea province north of Aden on Monday.

"The Houthis fired Katyusha rockets on our village," local journalist Akram Al Kudai told The National. "More than five casualties were taken to Al Naser hospital in the city centre to be treated."

Also in Al Dhalea, a woman was reportedly killed by gunfire on Sunday.

"An old lady named Zahra Hamid was shot by a Houthi sniper while she was looking after her cattle in Thee Ali village in the Tuwarsa area on Al Azarik front," Fuad Ali, a resident based in the area, told The National.