Yemeni govt blasts rebel ‘deception’ over port pullout

13 May, 2019 12:00 AM printer

DUBAI: Yemen’s government on Sunday accused rebels of a “policy of deception” after they announced a pullout from a string of Red Sea ports in a long-delayed move agreed under a ceasefire deal last year, reports AFP.

The docks serve as a lifeline for millions in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country, which has been pushed to the brink of famine by more than four years of devastating war.

According to the United Nations, the Huthi insurgents began to withdraw from the ports of Hodeida, Saleef and Ras Issa on Saturday.

The pullback is considered a first step in implementing a hard-won truce agreement for Hodeida struck in Sweden in December between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and the Iran-aligned Huthi rebels. The flashpoint city is the main entry point for Yemen’s imports and humanitarian aid.

But government officials cast doubts over the handover process, saying it was unclear who was taking control of the ports, and experts said it was too soon to say if the move represented genuine progress.

“The (Sweden) agreement is very difficult to execute because the lines are blurry and each side interprets it the way it wants to,” said Yemen expert Farea al-Muslimi, a visiting fellow at the London-based Chatham House think tank.

“Overall, the next two weeks will show if this is a handover or a yet another hangover,” he told AFP.

Yemen’s information minister accused the rebels of faking the pullout.

“What the Huthi militia did is a repeated theatrical play of handing over control of the port to its own forces (in different uniforms),” Moammer al-Eryani tweeted on Sunday. “This shows its continued manipulation and evasion to implement the Sweden agreement... by adopting a policy of deception.”

The governor of Hodeida, Al-Hasan Taher, said Saturday the insurgents were merely reshuffling personnel.

“The Huthis are staging a new ploy by handing over the ports of Hodeida, Saleef and Ras Issa to themselves without any monitoring by the United Nations and the government side,” said the official, appointed by the internationally recognised government.

“This is totally rejected by us, and the agreement must be implemented in full, especially with regards to the identity of the troops that will take over from the Huthis,” he added.

Sources close to the Huthis said the ports were handed over to coastguard personnel who were in charge before the rebels took over Hodeida almost five years ago.

According to Adam Baron, a Yemen expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, the Huthi withdrawal represents a “potential breakthrough”. “That being said, it remains to be seen how significant it can truly be,” he told AFP.

“Trust between both parties borders on non-existent, something that continues to hamper any efforts toward deconfliction.