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UN warns Yemen's warring sides Hodeidah truce in jeopardy

Truce has largely held in Hodeidah, but clashes have increased in recent weeks and UN Yemen envoy has urged all parties to reduce tensions
Yemeni fishermen clean and sell their catch at market in Hodeidah (AFP)

The head of the UN mission in Yemen warned the Saudi-backed government and the Houthi rebels on Sunday that a seven-week ceasefire in the flashpoint city of Hodeidah was fragile and urged them to order their commanders on the ground to uphold the truce.

Retired Dutch General Patrick Cammaert met with government representatives and Houthis aboard a vessel anchored in the port of Hodeidah on Sunday for talks aimed at shoring up the ceasefire, AFP said.

The meeting is to address problems in implementing an agreement reached in Sweden in December that calls for a ceasefire in rebel-held Hodeidah, a pullback of forces from the port city and the opening of humanitarian corridors.

The warring parties were supposed to withdraw their forces by 7 January as part of efforts to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeidah, but have failed to do so as the Iran-aligned Houthi group and the Saudi-backed government disagree on who should control the city and ports, according to Reuters.

The talks are to continue on Monday, a UN statement said, describing the meeting as "cordial and constructive."

Cammaert "warned the parties about the fragility of the ceasefire and urged them to instruct their commanders on the ground to refrain from any further violations that would jeopardize the Stockholm Agreement and the broader peace process for Yemen," the statement said.

The truce has largely held in Hodeidah, but clashes have increased in recent weeks and the UN Yemen Envoy Martin Griffiths has urged all parties to reduce tensions. Violence has continued in other parts of the country not subject to the deal.

The Red Sea port of Hodeidah is the entry point for the bulk of Yemen's imported goods and humanitarian aid, providing a lifeline to millions in the Arab world's poorest country.

This is the third meeting of a joint committee on implementing the deal, which has been hailed as a major step toward ending Yemen's devastating four-year war.

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During the talks, the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels both "reiterated their commitment to implementing the Hodeidah aspects of the Stockholm Agreement," the statement said.

In particular, the sides agreed to work towards finding a solution to give aid workers access to the Red Sea Mills food warehouses in Hodeida.

Red Sea Mills was one of the last positions seized by Saudi and Emirati-backed forces before the truce.

The meetings are being held aboard a UN vessel after the rebels refused to hold talks in government-held areas, an official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Saudi-backed government and Iran-supported Houthi rebels have accused each other of violating the ceasefire that went into force on 18 December.

Deadlines for the pullback of forces from Hodeidah and a prisoner swap have slipped, fueling worries that the hard-won agreement may unravel.

Yemen's Houthi rebels have been mired in a war with government forces backed since 2015 by a Saudi-led coalition.

The conflict has triggered what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with millions of people at risk of starvation. 

The World Health Organization has put the death toll since 2015 at about 10,000 people but rights groups say that figure may be five times higher.