Yemen truce, prisoner swap timelines pushed back: UN

Sanaa: The UN envoy for Yemen said Monday the expected timeline for a truce in the flashpoint city of Hodeida and a prisoner swap between warring parties had been pushed back.

Envoy Martin Griffiths hosted hard-won peace talks between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and rival Iran-aligned Huthi rebels in Sweden last month.

The two parties, who have been at war for four years, agreed at the talks to a mass prisoner swap and an ambitious ceasefire pact in Hodeida, the Red Sea city home to the impoverished country’s most valuable port.

Griffiths, who arrived Monday in Sanaa on his third trip to Yemen this month, said there had been “changes in timelines” for both deals.

“That momentum is still there, even if we have seen the timelines for implementation extended, both in Hodeida and with regard to the prisoner exchange agreement,” he told Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.

“Yet such changes in timelines are expected, in light of the facts that the timelines were rather ambitious and we are dealing with a complex situation on the ground.”

Griffiths also confirmed reports retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert, who heads a monitoring team tasked with overseeing the Hodeida truce, would be replaced. Cammaert arrived Saturday in Yemen.

“General Cammaert’s plan was to stay in Yemen for a rather short period of time to… lay the ground for establishing the Hodeida mission,” he said.

“All the speculations about other reasons for General Patrick’s departure are not accurate.”

The Huthis, who control Hodeida, have accused Cammaert of not being up to the task and of pursuing “other agendas”.

Hodeida was for months the main front line in the Yemen war after government forces supported by Saudi Arabia and its allies launched an offensive to capture it in June.

But a precarious calm has largely held in the city since the ceasefire agreement came into force on December 18.

The Hodeida agreement stipulates a full ceasefire, followed by the withdrawal and redeployment of rival forces from the city — two clauses that have yet to be fulfilled.

The Yemen conflict has killed some 10,000 people since a Saudi-led military coalition intervened in support of the beleaguered government in March 2015, according to the World Health Organization.

Human rights groups say the real death toll could be five times as high.

The war has pushed 14 million Yemenis to the brink of famine in what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.