UN proposes Yemen rebels withdraw from Hodeida for joint control with govt
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Rimbo (Sweden) (AFP)
The UN has proposed Yemen's Huthi rebels withdraw from Hodeida as part of a ceasefire deal placing the flashpoint port city under joint control, according to a document seen by AFP Monday.
The document, verified by two sources in a Yemeni government delegation at UN-brokered talks in Sweden, stipulates that the Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Huthis cease all operations in the rebel-held city in exchange for a Huthi withdrawal.
The area would then be put under the control of a joint committee and supervised by the United Nations.
The two sources said the government delegation was expected to issue a formal response to the proposal on Monday.
Huthi representatives were not immediately reachable for comment. A UN official in Rimbo was also not immediately reachable for comment.
Yemen's Saudi-backed government and Huthi rebels, linked to Riyadh's archrival Iran, convened in the rural village of Rimbo, Sweden on Thursday for what is expected to be a week of talks on a war that has killed upwards of 10,000 people in less than four years.
The Hodeida proposal is a significant step closer to the demands of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, whose government was driven out of the capital in a rebel takeover in 2014 that included the seizure of Hodeida -- the most valuable port in a country now at the brink of famine.
The Red Sea city has been at the heart of a government offensive to drive the rebels out since June. The destruction of the port city would trigger a new humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where the UN estimates 14 million people face imminent starvation.
Shipments to Hodeida, including humanitarian aid, have been severely restricted by the coalition. Huthi fighters who are now ensconced in residential neighbourhoods to fight government forces.
The UN has regularly urged the Saudi-led coalition to suspend its operations in the densely-populated city, home to 150,000 people and a vital conduit for aid across Yemen.
The government accuses the rebels of smuggling arms from Iran through Hodeida, and has demanded the rebels withdraw unilaterally from the area. The Huthis refuse.
Both parties have said they would accept UN supervision of the port if it were under their sole control.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a UN official at the talks in Rimbo on Saturday evening said Hodeida had proved the "most difficult" issue at the talks, the first since more than three months of talks collapsed in 2016.
Among the other issues under discussion in Sweden are potential humanitarian corridors, a prisoner swap and the reopening of the defunct Sanaa international airport.
The Huthi takeover of Hodeida, a traditional conduit for 90 percent of food imports to impoverished Yemen, sparked the intervention of Saudi Arabia and its allies on behalf of the government the following year.
The 2015 intervention is widely seen as a turning point in the Yemen war, the trigger of what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
© 2018 AFP