Yemen rebel leader willing to give UN control of key port

Paris (AFP) –


Yemen's Huthi rebel chief says he is ready to hand over control of the key port of Hodeida to the United Nations if the Saudi-led coalition backing pro-government troops halts its offensive, a French newspaper reported.

"We told the UN envoy, Martin Griffiths, that we are not rejecting the role of supervision and logistics that the UN wants to hold in the port, but on the condition that the aggression against Hodeida stops," Abdel Malek al-Huthi said in an interview with Le Figaro published online late Tuesday.

War-ravaged Yemen imports 90 percent of its food, 70 percent of which pass through Hodeida's docks and the fighting has raised UN fears of a humanitarian catastrophe in a country already teetering on the brink of famine.

The Red Sea port has been controlled by the rebels since 2014, when they drove the government out of the capital Sanaa and much of the country.

Earlier this year, the Saudi-led coalition imposed a near-total blockade on the port alleging it was being used as a conduit for arms smuggling to the rebels by its regional arch rival Iran.

Then last month Yemen's government and its allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launched an offensive on the port, the capture of which would be the coalition's biggest victory of the war so far.

UN envoy Griffiths has reportedly been pushing for a deal to end the violence in which the rebels cede control of the port to a UN-supervised committee.

Such an arrangement would mean the rebels would keep control of the city, a situation the UAE has rejected, demanding the unconditional withdrawal of the Huthis.

In the Le Figaro interview, the rebel leader also accused France of "contributing to Arab-led aggression" in Yemen by selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

"Many Western countries consider wars in the light of their economic interests, to the detriment of human rights," he said.

Nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the war between Yemen's government and Huthi insurgents, including 2,200 children.