Hodeidah governor calls Houthi withdrawal from Yemen ports 'theatrical act'

Members of the World Food Programme visit the Red Sea mills warehouse in the Yemeni port city of Hodeida on 5 May 2019

The first day of a withdrawal of forces by Yemen's Houthi movement from three of the country's Red Sea ports went "in accordance with established plans", the head of a United Nations mission to monitor the deal said on Sunday.

The pullout has yet to be confirmed by the United Nations, but according to Reuters, rebel forces began withdrawing from Hudaydah port on Saturday.

Security concerns prevented the United Nations for months from accessing 51,000 tonnes of wheat in silos near Hodeidah that could feed millions in the impoverished country.

Waleed Al Qudaimi, deputy governor of Hodeidah province, told The National that the Houthis were trying to avoid criticism at a Security Council session on May 15 by repeating the ruse they had tried in late December.

It is the first major step in implementing the deal, which was reached by the Saudi-backed Yemen government of President Abed-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Iran-aligned Houthis for a ceasefire and troop withdrawal in Hodeidah past year.

"Martin Griffiths wants to achieve victory even if the Houthis hand over (the ports) to themselves", the government-appointed official said.

"We will not accept this theatrical act and we will remain the main party in any agreement", al-Taher said. "A group of (Houthi) militiamen left and they were replaced by others wearing coast guard police uniforms".

Yemeni Information Moammar Al Eryani on Saturday described the operation as an attempt to mislead the global community, which has been increasing pressure for an end to the war.

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"The U.N. and its special envoy are sponsoring talks in Amman.to discuss the issue of salaries and to make the economic situation neutral", Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthis' Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said in a tweet.

As a result of the meeting, the rebels and the government agreed on a ceasefire in the Yemeni port city of Al Hudaydah - a lifeline for millions facing starvation - and an exchange of prisoners, and the establishment of humanitarian corridors.

The U.N. mission will monitor the redeployment, a first step towards concluding the peace agreement, the U.N. statement said, adding that it must be followed by "the committed, transparent and sustained actions of the parties to fully deliver on their obligations".

Yemen's conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, many of them civilians, relief agencies say.

Hodeidah became the focus of the war previous year when the coalition twice tried to seize its port to cut off the main supply line for the Houthis, whom they accuse of smuggling Iranian weapons, including missiles that have targeted Saudi cities.

A UN source told media on Saturday that the UN Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) would announce its assessment of the Houthi redeployment next week.

The port of Hodeida is one of Yemen's most important lifelines.

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