Yemen truce and prisoner swap timelines pushed back: UN

  • 29 Jan 2019

Martin Griffiths, UN envoy for Yemen, says, "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."

In this February 12, 2018 file photo, Saudi-led coalition backed forces petrol, Mocha, Yemen. ( AP Archive )

The United Nations envoy for Yemen said Monday the expected timeline for a truce in the flashpoint city of Hudaida and a prisoner swap between warring parties has been pushed back.

Martin Griffiths hosted hard-won peace talks between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and rival Iran-aligned Houthi 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 Hudaida, the Red Sea city home to the impoverished country's most valuable port.

Griffiths, who was in rebel-held 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 Hudaida 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 of plans to replace retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert, who heads the monitoring team tasked with overseeing the Hodeida truce.

"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."

Cammaert arrived Saturday in Yemen.

At the United Nations, diplomats told AFP that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has chosen Cammaert's replacement: former Danish general Michael Lollesgaard.

His candidacy has been proposed to the UN Security Council, which has 48 hours to accept or refuse, two sources told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Lollesgaard commanded the UN mission to Mali (MINUSMA) from 2015 to 2016, and then became Denmark's military representative to NATO and the European Union in 2017.

The Houthis, who control Hudaida, have accused Cammaert of not being up to the task and of pursuing "other agendas." UN diplomats told AFP that his relationship with Griffiths was strained.

Meeting with rebel leader 

Griffiths, meanwhile, met with rebel leader Abdel Malek al Houthi, the group said.

The Houthi chief affirmed that he remains committed to the deal struck in Sweden and accused the government of "putting obstacles in the way of its implementation," said rebel official Mohammed Abdelsalam.

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 Hudaida 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.

Griffiths said another round of consultations was temporarily on hold pending progress on the current agreements.

Earlier this month, he said that planned talks had been postponed until February.

"We are all on the same page that we need to see progress in implementing what was agreed in Sweden before convening the next round of consultations," Griffiths said.

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.