UN to replace head of Yemen monitoring mission with Danish military official

The Security Council has 48 hours to approve UN chief Antonio Guterres' proposal

epa07327719 Yemeni soldiers keep watch as the motorcade of UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths leaves the Sana'a airport toward the city, in Sana'a, Yemen, 28 January 2019.  According to reports, UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths arrived in the Houthis-held capital Sana'a to hold talks with the Houthi rebels on the situation in the strategic port city of Hodeidah, where a UN-brokered ceasefire between the rebels and the Saudi-backed pro-government forces has gone into effect on 18 December 2018.  EPA/YAHYA ARHAB
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A former Danish general is expected to take over a diplomatic mission tasked with monitoring a UN peace deal in Yemen, western diplomats told The National on Tuesday.

UN chief Antonio Guterres proposed that former Danish General Michael Lollesgaard replace the current head of the mission, retired Dutch General Patrick Cammaert, in the port city of Hodeidah.

The Security Council has 48 hours to accept or refuse General Lollesgaard's candidacy. The retired Danish general led a UN peacekeeping mission in Mali in 2015 and 2016.

"Antonio Guterres has proposed Lollesgaard, the council still needs to approve it and I am sure they will," a western diplomat told The National.

General Cammaert and his team arrived in Hodeidah last month oversee a ceasefire agreed upon by Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels during UN-led peace talks in Sweden in December.

The Danish official is expected to start his mission in February, according to three western diplomatic sources who spoke to The National on condition of anonymity, because they were not authorised to publicly brief the media.

Yemeni government officials, who also requested anonymity, told The National that Mr Cammaert's relations with the Houthis and the UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, had been tense over the rebel's refusal to honor the terms of the truce.

The western diplomatic sources though insist that Mr Cammaert's appointment was always intended to be temporary, lasting only long enough to set up the operation in the port city.

The ceasefire went into effect on December 18 and was to be followed by a rebel withdrawal from Hodeidah's ports and a withdrawal of all armed forces from the city and surrounding areas. Yemen's government and the Arab Coalition supporting it have reported repeated rebel violations of the ceasefire.

Mr Griffiths meanwhile arrived to Hodeidah on Tuesday in attempt to salvage the Swedish deal.

General Lollesgaard, like General Cammaert, will report to Mr Griffiths and will oversee increasing the monitoring mission to up to 75 observers, a move that was authorised by the Security Council earlier this month.

The Houthis have boycotted meetings with Mr Cammaert in recent weeks and have also threatened to carry out drone strikes against government forces.

A vehicle in Mr Cammaert's convoy was shot at last week but no one was injured.

The UN confirmed the attack but did not say who was behind it, while government officials placed the blame on the rebels.

According to the international body, the truce has "largely held" but sporadic fighting has flared between two sides, suggesting that the UN is struggling to implement the withdrawal of troops.

Yemen’s government say that the Houthis handed over control to their own forces rather than local forces as stipulated in the agreement.

The government has repeatedly called for the UN to pressure the rebels to abide by the international agreement, stressing that failure to do so will enable the rebels to further obstruct the deal, Fayyad Al Numan, the undersecretary of Yemen's Ministry of Information, told The National.

“If the UN continues to take a soft approach with the Houthis and fails to put any pressure on them, it will indicate the failure of the Swedish deal," Mr Al Numan said.

Hodediah is a vital entry point for Yemen's commercial imports and aid supplies.