Exclusive - The Houthi Hodeidah Withdrawal Farce Leaves UN Red-Faced

Exclusive - The Houthi Hodeidah Withdrawal Farce Leaves UN Red-Faced

Monday, 31 December, 2018 - 09:00
Retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert (C), meets officials during his visit to Hodeidah on December 24, 2018. (AFP)
London – Badr al-Qahtani
Head of the UN team of monitors in Hodeidah, retired Dutch Major General Patrick Cammaert had not even completed his 15 days of dealing with the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen when he expressed his disappointment in their failure in confidence-building measures.

The UN cast doubt Sunday on claims by the militias to have withdrawn from the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, saying such steps can only be credible if all other parties can verify them.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said the Houthis also failed to honor an agreement to open a "humanitarian" corridor between Hodeidah and the capital, Sanaa, to deliver assistance. Both cities are under militia control.

He said Cammaert has expressed his "disappointment at their missed opportunity to build confidence between the parties" in a meeting with Houthi representatives about their failure to open the corridor.

The Houthis left the retired officer red-faced when he arrived to meet them in Hodeidah on Saturday. There, he was met with cameras and reporters in a farce that sought to display the Houthis’ sincerity in respecting the Sweden agreement.

The Houthis said Saturday they handed over control of the Hodeidah port to the coast guard under the Sweden agreement, but the government denied this, saying it was a ploy by the militants to maintain control.

Government officials said the Houthi-appointed commander of the coast guard in Hodeidah is a longtime militia commander who had never served in the coast guard before.

Yemeni political researcher Al-Biraa Shiban said that the Houthis confirmed what the Yemenis have known from the start.

The truce that was declared during the Sweden deal was only an opportunity for them to regroup, he said. “The weekend’s farce only confirmed this, this time, however, Cammaert was there to witness it for himself.”

He added that the militias are taking advantage of Cammaert and UN special envoy Martin Griffiths because they are relatively new to their posts.

What about Griffiths?

Shiban believes that the UN envoy’s credibility is at stake, given that he spearheaded efforts at the Sweden talks earlier this month.

“He tried to convince everyone that the Houthis would commit to the deal simply by stopping military operations in Hodeidah,” he noted. “Griffiths needs to be clear and honest in dealing with the Yemenis because they are fed up with Houthi stalling and maneuvers.”

“He must inform the Yemenis that he could not reach a deal with the Houthis if they will not respect the ceasefire,” he added.

“As for the legitimate government, it has rejected this farce and relayed its concerns to the UN Security Council. It must assert to the Yemenis that it can resolve the crisis militarily if the need arises,” he stressed.

Drowning in details

Yemeni diplomat Abdulwahhab Tawwaf told Asharq Al-Awsat that Saturday’s development was a “desperate and naive Houthi attempt to lure Cammaert to Hodeidah in order to set up that media farce.”

“It is clear that they are pushing the UN and international community to become embroiled in insignificant details that cannot resolve the war,” he added. “They are seeking to distract them in order to gain time and impose their deadly ideology on Yemen’s future generations.”

In addition, he revealed that he had contacted British Ambassador to Yemen Michael Aron, who informed him that he was “deceived” by a tweet by Houthi spokesman, Mohammed Abdulsalam.

He claimed that the Houthis had handed over Hodeidah, but the ambassador found out that it was just a ploy.

Militia maneuvers

The Houthis have long claimed to support peace and coexistence with others in order to conceal their real agenda of imposing their sectarian project in Yemen, continued Tawwaf.

“Everyone was optimistic after the Sweden talks, not that they sensed any serious Houthi efforts at the discussions, but because they saw that the UN and international community have realized the need to disarm the militias and end their coup in Yemen,” he remarked.

The UN and international community also realized the importance of implementing Security Council resolution 2216 and that resolving the dispute over Hodeidah would bring the country closer to peace, he continued.

The signs coming from Hodeidah are not promising, he noted, because the “Houthis have their own interpretation” of the Sweden deal.

What to expect

The coming days will reveal the Houthis’ real intention in whether they will abide by the agreement or not, said Tawwaf.

“The Yemeni people will decide how to regain their state from the militias’ clutches,” he stressed.

“Peace can only be achieved if the state is restored and all sectarian armed groups are disbanded,” he remarked. “There can be no such groups on Yemeni territory.”

“Everyone is equal under the law and constitution,” he added.

Yemeni analyst Abdullah Ismail said that the major challenge at the moment is dealing with the Houthis’ stalling tactics, which have been predicted and did not come as a surprise to any observer of the crisis.

“How will the Security Council and international community deal with this behavior?” he wondered.

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