UN envoy sees troop withdrawal in Yemen’s Hodeidah within weeks

Martin Griffiths (R), the UN special envoy for Yemen, arrives at Sanaa international airport in the Yemeni capital on April 8, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 April 2019
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UN envoy sees troop withdrawal in Yemen’s Hodeidah within weeks

  • The UN has struggled to implement a pact agreed at talks last December in Sweden, the first major breakthrough in peace efforts to end the war
  • Griffiths said he had received on Sunday the formal acceptance of the legitimate government and the Houthis to implement a first phase of troop redeployments

DUBAI: Yemen’s warring parties could start withdrawing forces from the main port city of Hodeidah within weeks, a move needed to pave the way for political negotiations to end the four-year war, the UN special envoy said on Thursday.
Martin Griffiths said he had received on Sunday the formal acceptance of the legitimate government and the Iran-backed Houthi group to implement a first phase of troop redeployments, while discussions were still underway for the second phase.
The United Nations has struggled to implement a pact agreed at talks last December in Sweden, the first major breakthrough in peace efforts to end the war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
“The two parties agreed formally to the concept of operations for phase one. What we are doing now is ... moving on as planned from there to agree on phase two,” Griffiths told Reuters in a telephone interview without elaborating, adding that talks would “intensify” in coming days.
“So we don’t have an exact date at the moment for the beginning of this physical redeployment,” he said. “It’s got to be weeks ... hopefully few weeks.”
Sources have told Reuters the first phase would see the Houthis leave the city’s ports and pro-government forces leave some areas on the city’s outskirts. In the second phase, both sides would pull troops to 18 km from the city and heavy weapons 30 km away.
The Hodeidah deal was a trust building step aimed at averting a full-scale assault on Hodeidah by the Arab coalition trying to restore the legitimate government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and paving the way for political talks to set up a transitional government.
Danish general Michael Lollesgaard, head of the UN observer team in Hodeidah, chairs a Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) tasked with hammering out details not spelled out in the pact.
A cease-fire in Houthi-held Hodeidah has largely held but violence has escalated elsewhere in the country. The troop withdrawal was due to have been completed by Jan. 7 but stalled over disagreement on who would control the Red Sea port city.
Asked if that issue had been resolved, Griffiths said: “We have ideas on how to bridge the gap on the issue of the local security forces” but it would be up to the parties represented in the RCC headed by Lollesgaard to resolve it.
Three sources told Reuters last month that the first phase would see the Houthis pull back 5 km (3 miles) from the ports of Saleef, used for grain, and Ras Isa, for oil. Then the Houthis would quit Hodeidah port while coalition forces would retreat 1 km from the city’s “Kilo 8” and Saleh districts.
This would restore access cut off since September to the Red Sea Mills, which holds some 50,000 tons of World Food Programme grain, enough to feed 3.7 million people, and allow humanitarian corridors to be reopened.
Hodeidah handles the bulk of Yemen’s commercial and aid supplies and is critical for feeding the population of 30 million people. It became a focus of fighting last year, raising concern that an all-out assault could disrupt supply lines and trigger mass starvation in the poorest Arabian Peninsula nation.
“I know we’re spending an enormous amount of time, and rightly so, on Hodeidah, but it’s the gateway to the comprehensive settlement and of course failure in Hodeida is not an option,” Griffiths said.
“The aim ultimately of an agreement which will resolve the conflict and end this war is to return governing of Yemen to politicians, to return to the people of Yemen accountable government.”


Algeria graft prosecutor refers two ex PMs to supreme court

Updated 43 min 54 sec ago
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Algeria graft prosecutor refers two ex PMs to supreme court

  • Former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal who served under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika were referred to the Supreme Court
  • Five other former ministers were also referred

ALGIERS: An Algerian prosecutor investigating graft allegations has referred two former prime ministers and five former ministers to the supreme court, Ennahar TV reported on Sunday citing a statement from the prosecution.
Mass protests have broken out in Algeria demanding the removal of the ruling elite and the prosecution of people demonstrators regard as corrupt. The seven politicians will be investigated by the court over alleged corruption cases, Ennahar said, without providing details.
They include former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal who served under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika who resigned on April 2 after coming under pressure from protesters and the army.
The list of the former ministers, who are under investigation, includes Amara Benyounes, Abdelakader Zaalane, Amar Ghoul, Karim Djoudi and Abdessalam Bouchouareb.
They were in charge of the sectors of trade, transport, public works, finance and industry respectively.
Their lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.
The army is now the most powerful institution after the departure of Bouteflika, who had ruled the North African country since 1999.
Army chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah has said major corruption cases would be pursued to try to appease the protests that started on Feb.22.
Bouteflika's youngest brother, Said, and two former intelligence chiefs have been placed in custody by a military judge over "harming the army's authority and plotting against state authority."
At least five prominent businessmen have also been detained pending trial over involvement in corruption cases.
Protesters also want the resignation of interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Beoui, who are considered as part of the ruling elite that has run the country since independence from France in 1962.