NEW YORK: The head of the UN mission at Hodeidah in Yemen, which is monitoring the ceasefire there, has called for its mandate to be extended.
Maj. Gen. Michael Beary emphasized the strategic and humanitarian significance of the coastal city to the future of Yemen, and said there is no “easy substitute” for its ports.
“The ports serve as a lifeline for Yemen,” he told Arab News. “They supply up to 70 percent of the country’s population with humanitarian aid and essential food supplies.
“There is no viable substitute for Hodeidah’s ports, both in terms of location and infrastructure, and the governorate remains an indispensable pathway to the country’s social economic recovery.”
However, Beary said that his team, formally known as the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement, remains dogged by restrictions on the movement of personnel imposed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels who have, from the beginning, prevented them from carrying out patrols in Hodeidah city and accessing hot spots and the locations of significant “ceasefire incidents.”
“We are very much in touch with Houthis,” he said. But although the current truce between the Yemeni government and the militia seems largely to be holding and has led to “some relaxations” on the part of the Houthis, he added: “We are still confined.”
Speaking at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday, where he was having private consultations with members of the Security Council ahead of a vote on the renewal of his mission’s mandate, which is scheduled for July, he said: “We’ve been trying to push back against (the restrictions on freedom of movement) and I have been trying to get acquiescence from the Houthis to expand our patrolling format.
“I would like to be patrolling to the ports unannounced at any time and visit every area and that’s what I want to get to, but I am not quite there yet. But we have increased the frequencies of our patrols to ensure that the ports and the civilian nature of the ports is maintained.”
The UNMHA was born from the 2018 Stockholm Agreement, a voluntary accord between the parties to Yemen’s conflict. It includes three main undertakings, including a prisoner-swap deal and an agreement on addressing the situation in besieged Taiz governorate.
Regarding Hodeidah, and the ports there and at Salif and Ras Issa, the signatories agreed to an immediate ceasefire in the city, the securing of the ports and the establishment of a committee to coordinate the redeployment of forces. The agreement also provided for a strengthened UN presence in the city and ports.
The UNMHA is tasked with maintaining the civilian status of the ports amid the continuing regional and international outcry against the use of them by the Houthis for war-related activities and reports of Iran using the ports to smuggle arms into the country.
Beary said that his mission has not been able to independently verify the claims of arms smuggling through the ports, nor has it witnessed any war-related activities there, but he again noted the limits on his team’s ability to move about freely and carry out “unannounced” inspections.
“I lead a small, political mission; it’s 120-strong, it is not a big peacekeeping mission,” he said. “We have small number of military monitors and we do have challenges in terms of freedom of movement in Hodeidah.
“We work through those challenges as best we can. We patrol as regularly as we can into the port’s environment.”
Beary explained that there are also geographical issues to overcome.
“There’s quite a separation between these ports,” he said. “If you go from Hodeida to (Salif), it is a three-hour-long trip. They’re not all nicely tied together.
“So we go out there, we look for any changes in the immediate nature of the ports. And … from the periods that we have been doing this, and we’ve been doing this since Stockholm was agreed, we haven’t seen any major military movements or military manifestations.”
Despite the issues that his mission continues to face, he said it continues to perform a vital task.
“It’s important for the international community that we continue to do this and I certainly will keep advocating to get greater freedom of movement in order to allow us to be out there more frequently and unannounced, and therefore we can reliably inform the international community that the ports are civilian in nature,” Beary said.
“The ports are (strategically) so important. There is no easy substitute for them on the coast. The ports are incredibly important for the delivery of humanitarian aid. We must keep them open.”
He added that action to reduce the threat posed by mines remains one of the most important elements of his mission’s work. He said the devices continue to claim innocent lives and described them as “a curse on the population of Yemen.”
“The mission is sparing no effort to mobilize support to respond to this tragic problem within our immediate environment,” he said.
Beary said he is building a good relationship with the government of Yemen and hopes to develop a solid rapport with all parties to help the UN reap the benefits of what he called the “peace dividends” resulting from the nationwide truce, which began in April, including the recent resumption of commercial international flights to and from Yemen, and fuel shipments to Hodeidah.
“Peace must really come from the parties, it can’t be imposed upon them by the UN or by the UN missions, but we will be there, ready to help them,” Beary said.