UN's Yemen envoy says no firm proposals for Hodeidah yet

Martin Griffiths dismisses leak of purported UN draft as ideas being proposed by warring parties

Yemeni pro-government forces advance towards the port city of Hodeida, controlled by Huthi rebels, as they continue to battle for the control of the city, on November 6, 2018.  Five days of battles between Iran-linked Huthi rebels and the army, allied with a regional military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, have left more than 150 combatants dead in the Red Sea province of Hodeida. / AFP / STRINGER

The United Nations on Monday denied drawing up a plan to resolve the dispute over the port city of Hodeidah, with special envoy Martin Griffiths saying a leaked document that showed an initial peace proposal was not something “we have worked on”.

A draft document circulated on Monday proposed halting fighting in the port city with the withdrawal of all troops, and having the UN oversee and set up a local administration.

“The reports on a UN Hodeidah document is not true; it’s pretty much written by the parties. Hodeidah proposal is not something that we have worked on,” Mr Griffiths told reporters at UN-backed peace negotiations in Sweden.


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Representatives of Yemen's internationally recognised government confirmed to The National the draft was not "an official document".

Delegation member Ali Ashal said the government was not willing to consider a ceasefire agreement that did not meet three existing preconditions: the rebels must withdraw from Hodeidah, surrender their arms and the city should be placed under full government control.

"These factors must be met before we consider any proposal for peace," he told The National.

Mr Ashal said the government was willing to accept UN supervision of Hodeidah's port, but insisted on full and sole control of the city.

"We are calling only for Hodeidah port to be under full UN supervision and we are sticking to our demands that Hodeidah city should be under the full supervision of the internationally recognised government,” he said.

The government's transport ministry must be responsible for managing the port and police forces affiliated with the interior ministry must be responsible for security inside Hodeidah, Mr Ashal said, ruling out the possibility of joint control with rebels.

A convoy of vehicles transporting U.N. envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths drive during a visit to the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, Yemen November 23, 2018. Picture taken November 23, 2018.  REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

In New York, the spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that both parties are in engaged in talks “on all issues and nothing is off the table.”

Mr Griffiths said that Hodeidah has been proven to be a “very difficult issue”.

“We are hopeful to reach an agreement for de-escalation on Hodeidah, but we are not there yet,” he said.

Mr Griffiths had earlier said he wanted to "take Hodeidah out of the war", in hopes that international aid deliveries can be restored through the port and the country can avert famine._______________

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The Red Sea port city has been the objective of a government offensive against Houthi rebels since June. Fighting in the port city could trigger a new humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where the UN estimates 14 million people face imminent starvation.
The UN has repeatedly attempted to end fighting in the city, which is home to 150,000 people and a vital conduit for aid across Yemen.
The government accuses the rebels of smuggling arms from Iran through Hodeidah and has demanded the they unilaterally withdraw from the area. The Houthis have so far refused such requests.

Although no progress has been made on a Hodeidah ceasefire, warring parties are taking steps towards finalising an agreement on a prisoner swap.

Houthi rebels and the government agreed to a prisoner exchange deal on the first day of UN-backed talks in Sweden on Thursday and have since held face-to-face consultations to discuss the details of the arrangement.

The government is hoping rebels will demonstrate goodwill by releasing high-profile leaders who have been held in Houthi prisons since 2015, before talks end on Friday. The captives include former minister of defence Gen Mahmood Al Soubaihi, and Maj Gen Naser Mansour Hadi – Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi’s brother – in addition to the leader of Yemen's Islamist Al Islah party, Mohammed Qahtan.

Ramon Penas / The National

Hadi Haig, who heads the government's prisoner swap committee, told The National that the deal would be carried out in stages, adding that it could take up to 48 days before all prisoners were exchanged.

Both sides will deliver a list of detainees to the UN on Monday, he said, adding that the respective committees are still working on their lists of prisoners.

The government will deliver a list of 6,000 people it wants released from Houthi prisons, Mr Haig said. Not all the people on the list may actually be detained however. Some may have been killed or have gone missing during the course of the war.

“There is, of course, many of those who have been detained or abducted who have lost their lives, are still in prison or are injured, so we need to establish their whereabouts first before the exchange operation proceeds,” Mr Haig said on the sideline of talks in Rimbo, Sweden.

epa06918680 A column of Yemeni government forces and vehicles take position as they fight Houthi rebels in the western port city of Hodeidah, Yemen, 30 July 2018. According to reports, Yemeni government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition advanced towards the port city of Hodeidah during wide-ranging military operations to retake Hodeidah from Houthi rebels.  EPA/NAJEEB ALMAHBOOBI

This step is expected to take up to two weeks.

The government and rebels will then exchange information concerning the fate of the detained, before submitting approval on a final list of prisoners who would be slated for release as part of the deal.

The Red Cross will be in charge of transporting the detainees.

"We have been working on this file for the last 10 months now, the government feels that this file needs to be complete as soon as possible," Mr Haig said.

After the swap, both sides will form a committee to identify the fate of the missing.