Ceasefire agreed for vital Yemeni port city of Hodeidah

UN secretary general hails ‘real progress’ as warring parties agree to truce at peace talks in Sweden

Yemen’s foreign minister Khaled al-Yamani (left)  and rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdelsalam shake hands in the presence of of United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres at the end of  peace talks in Rimbo, on Thursday. Photograph:  Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Yemen’s foreign minister Khaled al-Yamani (left) and rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdelsalam shake hands in the presence of of United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres at the end of peace talks in Rimbo, on Thursday. Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

 

Yemen’s warring parties have agreed to a ceasefire in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah and its surrounding governorate, the United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres has said at the end of a week of peace talks in Sweden.

The agreement included the deployment of UN-supervised neutral forces and the establishment of humanitarian corridors, Mr Guterres said. Troops from both sides would withdraw from the area.

A political framework will be discussed in a next round of meetings scheduled for January.

If implemented on the ground in the coming weeks, the deal would represent a breakthrough because the port is the gateway for the bulk of aid coming into the country, and has been the subject of intense fighting.

Mr Guterres thanked the delegations for what he called “an important step” and “real progress toward future talks to end the conflict”. The outcome of the talks in the Swedish town of Rimbo would mean “concrete results in the daily lives of Yeminis”. He also announced the opening of humanitarian corridors to the besieged city of Taiz.

The UN-backed Yemeni government lost control of Hodeidah and the capital Sana’a to Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in 2015. Despite heavy Saudi and United Arab Emirate military support, the government, which is based in Aden, has been unable to win either city back.

Western backing for the Saudi-led war has frayed in the face of mass casualties, starvation and, more recently, allegations that the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was instrumental in organising the killing of the Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.

The agreements, sealed with a handshake between the two sets of negotiators, include details of mass prisoner swaps and shoring up the country’s central bank, which should enable the payment of salaries to 1.2 million public sector workers.

Entry point

Talks will resume in late January on a wider political settlement, but Mr Gutteres said the UN would be on hand to ensure that confidence-building measures are implemented.

The proposed UN supervision of Hodeidah port raises questions about the capacity of the UN to run the port. If it fails the risk remains that fighting for control of the port will continue. The port acts as the entry point for most aid into the country, and nearly 27 per cent of the Houthi income comes from the port.

Mr Gutteres and the UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt both flew to Sweden to attend the final day of the talks as part of a push to drive the two negotiating teams to a fuller agreement.

The UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, had never intended to reach a political settlement in these round of talks, the first since 2016. He was due to present the outcome of the talks to a meeting of the UN Security Council later on Thursday.

Mr Griffiths regards the fact that the talks occurred at all as a breakthrough. He overcame obstacles over the size of the Houthi delegations, its method of transport to Sweden and a demand that 50 of its most seriously injured fighters be flown to Oman for medical treatment.

Despite the antagonism and brutality of the war, many of the talks in Sweden were conducted face to face. Pictures from inside the conference showed the two teams of negotiators smiling and shaking hands.

Support in the US Senate for US backing for the Saudi war in Yemen is declining rapidly, placing pressure on the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo to urge America’s allies to negotiate an end to the war.

Discussions will start in New York on whether enough progress has been made to table a new UN Security Council resolution.

With both sides suspicious that the other will not honour the agreements struck, Mr Griffiths has tried to draw up detailed implementation plans in an attempt to prevent backsliding. – Guardian