Yemen: Hodeidah ceasefire is working, says UN envoy Martin Griffiths

Clashes were reported in the Red Sea port city minutes after truce was due to begin

Yemeni pro-government forces gather in the port city of Hodeida on December 17, 2018.         A ceasefire in Yemen's battleground port city of Hodeida and its surroundings will start tomorrow, officials say, after renewed fighting threatened the hard-won accord struck in Sweden. / AFP / STRINGER
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A ceasefire deal brokered between the two warring sides in Yemen in the port city of Hodeidah is working, the UN’s special envoy to the country Martin Griffiths said on Tuesday.

Pro-government officials had reported that clashes took place minutes after the agreement was due to come into force at midnight local time.

But after the initial reports of fighting, calm ensued in the Red Sea city from 3am, a military source loyal to the internationally recognised government told AFP.

Mr Griffiths said skirmishes had taken place between 1am and 2am local time at the frontline but, so far, the truce was holding.

“I’m remarkably familiar with ceasefires that don’t work and this one does seem to be working so far,” he told BBC radio. “It is the first time the skies have been quiet over Hodeidah for many, many months. So far, so good. Fingers crossed.”


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He said the skirmishes were a result of the two sides being in close proximity to each other and responding to what they saw as “provocation”.

But he said that the pattern so far was “positive”.

Mr Griffiths said he hoped the Hodeidah ceasefire, which was agreed last week in Sweden, would lead to complete disengagement and talks next month to reach a political solution to the war, which began in 2015.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 13, 2018, UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths holds a press conference following the Yemen peace consultations taking place at Johannesberg Castle in Rimbo, north of Stockholm, Sweden. Griffiths on December 14, 2018, urged the creation of a "robust and competent monitoring regime" in war-ravaged Yemen, one day after fighting parties agreed to a ceasefire at a vital port. / AFP / Jonathan NACKSTRAND

The attitudes of countries involved in the war, namely Iran, Saudi Arabia and Britain, are “vitally important because they are powerful”, the UN envoy said, but added that the ceasefire had been achieved between the two Yemeni parties.

Hodeidah is a strategically important city in the conflict and handles 80 per cent of essential goods going into Yemen.

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels took control of the port in 2015 and the Yemeni government have been trying to take it back since June this year.

Shots are fired from a vehicle during heavy fighting between the Yemeni government and Houthis in Hodeidah, Yemen, in this still image taken from video obtained on December 18, 2018. MANDATORY CREDIT ARAB 24/via REUTERS TV ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT

The war has led to a humanitarian crisis in the Arab world’s poorest country, with 75 per cent reliant on aid. About 14 million of the population are at risk of famine and 85,000 children under the age of five have died from starvation, according to Save the Children.

Mr Griffiths said “keeping the faith” in Hodeidah was essential to avoid  a large-scale famine in the country.