Government Rejects Preconditioned Agreement with Houthi Militia

The legitimate government is not ready to accept a UN ceasefire plan for Hodeidah until pre-existing conditions are met, including a rebel withdrawal form Hodeidah and full government control over the key port city, a delegate representing the government in UN-backed talks in Sweden told The National on Monday.

The United Nations has proposed the Houthi militia withdraws from the port city of Hodeidah as part of a ceasefire deal placing the flashpoint port city under joint control, according to a document seen by AFP on Monday.

According to AFP, the document stipulates that the Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Houthis cease all operations in the rebel-held city in exchange for a Houthi withdrawal. The area would then be put under the control of a joint committee and supervised by the United Nations.

Ali Ashal, a member of the legitimate government’s delegation said that the government is not willing to consider a ceasefire agreement that does not meet three existing preconditions: rebels must withdraw from Hodeidah, surrender their arms and the city should be placed under full government control.

“These factors must be met before we consider any proposal for peace,” he said, in comments that suggest the government will reject the latest UN proposal.

Mr Ashal said the government is willing to accept UN supervision of Hodeidah port, but still demands full and sole control of Hodeidah city.

“We are calling only for Hodeidah port to be under full UN supervision and we are sticking to our demands that Hodeidah city should be under the full supervision of the internationally recognised government,” he said.

While the government is willing to consider UN supervision over Hodeidah’s harbour, Mr Ashal said Yemen’s ministry of transport must be responsible for managing the port. He also said that police forces affiliated with the government’s interior ministry must be responsible for security inside Hodeidah, ruling out the possibility of joint control with rebels.

The Red Sea port city has been the objective of a government offensive against Houthi rebels since June. Fighting in the port city could trigger a new humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where the UN estimates 14 million people face imminent starvation.

The UN has repeatedly attempted to end fighting in the city, which is home to 150,000 people and a vital conduit for aid across Yemen.

The government accuses the rebels of smuggling arms from Iran through Hodeidah and has demanded the they unilaterally withdraw from the area. The Houthis have so far refused such requests.

Although no progress has been made on a Hodeidah ceasefire, warring parties are taking steps towards finalising an agreement on a prisoner swap.

Houthi rebels and the government agreed to a prisoner exchange deal on the first day of UN-backed talks in Sweden on Thursday and have since held face-to-face consultations to discuss the details of the arrangement.

The government is hoping rebels will demonstrate goodwill by releasing high-profile leaders who have been held in Houthi prisons since 2015, before talks end on Friday. The captives include former minister of defence Gen Mahmood Al Soubaihi, and Maj Gen Naser Mansour Hadi – Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi’s brother – in addition to the leader of Yemen’s Islamist Al Islah party, Mohammed Qahtan.

Hadi Haig, who heads the government’s prisoner swap committee, told The National that the deal would be carried out in stages, adding that it could take up to 48 days before all prisoners were exchanged.

Both sides will deliver a list of detainees to the UN on Monday, he said, adding that the respective committees are still working on their lists of prisoners.

The government will deliver a list of 6,000 people it wants released from Houthi prisons, Mr Haig said. Not all the people on the list may actually be detained however. Some may have been killed or have gone missing during the course of the war.

“There is, of course, many of those who have been detained or abducted who have lost their lives, are still in prison or are injured, so we need to establish their whereabouts first before the exchange operation proceeds,” Mr Haig said on the sideline of talks in Rimbo, Sweden. This step is expected to take up to two weeks.

The government and rebels will then exchange information concerning the fate of the detained, before submitting approval on a final list of prisoners who would be slated for release as part of the deal. The Red Cross will be in charge of transporting the detainees.

“We have been working on this file for the last 10 months now, the government feels that this file needs to be complete as soon as possible,” Mr Haig said.

After the swap, both sides will form a committee to identify the fate of the missing.

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