posted on Tue 12 Mar 2019 4:38 PM
Yemen: Consultations on the Hodeidah Agreement

Tomorrow morning (13 March), Council members will hold consultations to hear briefings from Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, and General Michael Lollesgaard, the chair of the Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) and head of the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA). The UK requested tomorrow’s session, concerned over the lack of progress in implementing the plan agreed by the Yemeni government and Houthi rebel group last month to conduct the Phase 1 redeployment of forces, as called for in the Hodeidah agreement.

The plan for implementing the Phase 1 redeployments set out a two-step process. In the first step, the Houthis are to redeploy from Saleef and Ras Isa ports to a location not less than 5 kilometers from the two ports. In the second step, the Houthis are to redeploy from Hodeidah port to a location no less than 5 kilometers to the north. Both sides would also withdraw forces from the frontline area of the so-called Kilo 8 triangle in Hodeidah city—the Houthis redeploying forces 300 meters west, and Yemeni government forces redeploying 4 kilometers away to an area at least 1 kilometer east of the Red Sea Mills. The significance of these maneuvers around the Kilo 8 triangle is that they would provide access from the north and south to the Red Sea Mills, which hold enough grain for 3.7 million people for a month, but have been inaccessible to the UN since October last year.

Since the Phase 1 redeployment plan was announced on 17 February, there has been no movement of forces. Separately, the parties facilitated access by a World Food Programme-led assessment mission to the Red Sea Mills on 26 February to determine the condition of grain stocks, which the UN has worried could start rotting. It seems that despite some spoilage and damage to the mills, food stocks can be salvaged if the UN can gain further access to repair damage to the mills and fumigate them.

UN officials have regularly highlighted the deep mistrust between the parties as an impediment to progress. This includes the Houthis’ concern that measures to redeploy, including de-mining of roads, could make them vulnerable to attack from Yemeni government forces that are backed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. Joint letters to the Security Council from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Yemeni government have sought to draw attention to Houthi violations of the governorate-wide ceasefire. Their latest letter on 4 March asserts 1,754 violations since the ceasefire entered into effect last December, including alleged Houthi use of ballistic missiles (S/2019/206), which they seek to document in a 24-page annex. During consultations on 19 February, Council members heard from Lollesgaard that the majority of ceasefire violations have been committed by the Yemeni government side, however. In their 4 March letter, the coalition countries rejected such “unfounded claims”, a reference to this assessment.

Since the Phase 1 agreement was reached, a stumbling block to implementation has been the composition of the “local security forces” that should replace the two sides’ forces. The Yemeni government has apparently insisted that these should be security forces that were in place prior to the Houthis’ take-over of Hodeidah in October 2014. Meanwhile, this past weekend saw the outbreak of what has been reported as the heaviest fighting in Hodeidah since the 13 December 2018 agreement was announced at the end of the UN-brokered consultations in Sweden.

Griffiths, who will brief Council members in person, recently completed a new round of shuttle diplomacy to overcome the impasse. Council members will be interested in hearing why progress has been so slow and difficult. In a 22 February press statement, members had called for “the immediate implementation” of the first phase of the redeployment of forces, and they are concerned at the lack of progress. Lollesgaard, briefing via video-teleconference, may share more details of the situation on the ground, including of the fighting from this weekend.

The UK’s request for the consultations came on the heels of the visit to Aden by UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt, who warned that the Stockholm peace process risked collapsing within weeks. Members may discuss what is needed and can be done to keep pressure on the sides to fulfill their commitments. The discussion is likely to feed into the Council’s 19 March briefing and consultations on Yemen that were previously scheduled.

Besides the stalled Hodeidah agreement, it seems that there has been no further progress advancing a prisoner exchange deal and the Statement of Understanding on Taiz. These were the other two elements that made up the Stockholm Agreement from last December’s consultations. A new round of consultations, to focus on a negotiating framework for a broader political solution, has also been on hold until further progress is made in fulfilling the Hodeidah agreement, though Griffiths recalled the importance of restarting such talks during his last Council briefing on 19 February.

There has been intense fighting over the past few weeks between the Houthis and the Hajour tribe, centered around the Kushar basin of the northern Hajjah governorate, while leaders of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) have conducted a number of recent media interviews warning of further instability in southern Yemen if the STC is not included as a formal participant in peace talks. A statement on Monday (11 March) by the Office of the Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen condemned “strikes” on houses in the Kushar district in Hajjah during the past two days, which killed 12 children and 10 women, according to medical sources.