Yemen crisis: head of UN mission arrives in Aden to monitor Hodeidah ceasefire

The head of a United Nations mission tasked with assessing a fragile ceasefire in Yemen’s strategic port city of Hodeidah has arrived in Aden.

Patrick Cammaert, a retired Dutch general, with experience in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), arrived in the southern city of Aden on Saturday and is set to meet government representatives before travelling to the rebel-held capital Sanaa and then to Hodeidah. He is currently chair of a Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) that includes representatives from both sides of the conflict.

The UN Security Council, on Friday, unanimously approved the deployment of an advance monitoring team led by Cammaert. Cammaert and his team will be deployed for an initial period of 30 days.  

“General Cammaert is encouraged by the general enthusiasm of both sides to get to work, immediately. One of the priorities in the coming days will be the organisation of the first joint RCC meeting, which is projected for 26 December,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

The ceasefire in Hodeidah, which has been between Saudi-backed government forces and Houthi rebels, is seen as the first significant breakthrough in peace efforts since the war erupted in 2014 in Yemen.

Ceasefire talks were brokered in Rimbo, roughly 60 kilometres from the Swedish capital of Stockholm. In addition to the talks, several confidence-building steps were also agreed to boost confidence between the warring sides. This included a planned prisoner swap involving some 16,000 detainees.

The armed conflict in Yemen has left more than 22 million people in dire need of humanitarian assistance or protection, of whom over eight million are severely food insecure and face risk of starvation, as per UN estimates.

What will Cammaert’s team do?

Cammaert’s team will secure the functioning of Hodeidah port, which is a key gateway for aid and food imports in Yemen. His team will also supervise the withdrawal of fighters from Hodeidah city.

The UN will also provide support for the management of and inspections at the ports of Hodeidah, Salif, and Ras Issa; and it will strengthen its presence in the war-torn region.

Hodeidah, the main port used to feed Yemen’s 30 million people, has been the focus of the war this year. The port has raised fears abroad that a full-scale assault could cut off supplies to nearly 16 million people suffering from severe hunger.

What have the Houthis agreed to do?

The Houthis had agreed to remove troops and stop fighting in the city of Hodeidah on December 13, after consultations in Sweden between the rebels and the Yemeni government. However, the Houthis have reportedly violated the ceasefire in Yemen 14 times since Friday (December 21).

Cammaert’s challenges

Sahr Muhammedally, a Middle East expert at the Center for Civilians in Conflict, a campaign group of which Cammaert is also a board member, predicted that tense talks could ensue between Cammaert, the Houthis, and the government of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

“He’s got a challenging road ahead and he will be working with both sides to figure out how to ensure the implementation of the ceasefire agreement and what the verification mechanisms are going to be,” Muhammedally told Al Jazeera.

“That’s going to be a huge challenge. Will the internationally-recognised government allow the Houthis to have their forces to patrol Hodeidah and provide security? Will the Houthis allow government forces in?”

The Hodeidah ceasefire

Yemen’s warring factions agreed to a ceasefire in the Red Sea city of Hodeidah last week. The Hodeidah ceasefire is seen as a major breakthrough, with expectations of ending violence in the city.

After a week of consultations in the Swedish town of Rimbo, representatives from the Houthi movement and the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi agreed to withdraw their fighters to allow deployment of UN-supervised neutral forces and the establishment of humanitarian corridors.

However, just a day after the historic truce was finalised, clashes erupted between the two opposing sides. At least 30 fighters have been killed in the past three days, and sporadic incidents of violence seem to threaten the accord.

The Yemen crisis

Since 2014, Yemen has been in the grip of a multi-sided conflict involving local, regional, and international actors.

The Houthi rebels comprise a group of Zaidi Shia Muslims who ruled a kingdom there for nearly 1,000 years. The Houthis exploited widespread anger against Yemeni President Hadi’s decision to postpone long-awaited elections and his stalled negotiations over a new constitution.

The Houthis then marched from their stronghold of Saada province to the capital Sanaa and surrounded the presidential palace, placing Hadi under house arrest.

One of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in contemporary times, the Yemen conflict involves a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia. This coalition intervened in March 2015, at Hadi’s request, after the Houthis continued to sweep the south and threatened to conquer the last government stronghold of Aden.

Alarmed by the rise of the Houthis who were believed to be supported militarily by regional Shia power, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and eight other Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Hadi’s government. The coalition received logistical and intelligence support from the US, UK and France.

The Yemeni conflict has received considerable media attention after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was a critic of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy and was brutally murdered inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius

HodeidahUnited NationsYemen