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Yemen's warring sides meet on Hodeidah for first time in five months

Redeployment from Hodeidah is critical part of ceasefire deal reached in December in Sweden that calls on government and Houthis to move forces away from ports
UN officials prepare joint meeting with representatives of Yemeni government and Houthi rebels on vessel off coast of Yemen on Sunday (AFP)

Representatives from Yemen's government and Houthi rebels tasked with pulling forces out of the key port city of Hodeidah met on Sunday for the first time in five months.

The redeployment from Hodeidah is a critical part of a ceasefire deal reached in December in Sweden that calls on the government and the Houthis to move forces away from ports and parts of city.

"The joint meeting of the redeployment coordination committee started earlier this afternoon," a UN official present at the meeting told AFP, adding it that was set to continue on Monday. The last meeting was held on 16 and 17 February, he added.

The UN head of the committee confirmed the meeting" aboard a UN vessel on the high seas", adding that it would centre on "steps to implement" the Hodeidah pullback plan.

The meeting on the ship came as efforts to convene the meeting in territory held by the government forces or the rebels failed because both sides were unwilling to cross the frontline to meet each other, according to the sources who spoke to Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

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"The joint meeting on Hodeidah will officially start on Sunday night and will continue until Monday on the ship," a UN official told The National.

The government delegation, led by Major General Saghir Aziz, arrived at the ship on Sunday morning, a Yemeni government official told The National.

Led by Danish General Michael Lollesgaard, the committee established under the Sweden agreement includes representatives from the UN, the Yemeni government, and Houthi rebels.

The pullback was supposed to have taken place two weeks after the ceasefire went into force on 18 December, but that deadline was missed.

In May, the UN announced that the rebels had withdrawn from Hodeidah and two other nearby ports, the first practical step on the ground since the ceasefire deal.

Still, the government accused the militia of faking the pullout, saying it had merely handed control to its allies.

Lollesgaard confirmed in June there had been no Houthi military presence in all three ports since their withdrawal a month before.

The UN is hoping that a de-escalation in Hodeidah will allow desperately-needed food and medical aid to reach millions in need in Yemen.

The Red Sea port is the entry point for the bulk of imported goods and relief aid to Yemen, which the UN has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

UN envoy to meet Hadi

Meanwhile, the UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, went to Saudi Arabia on Sunday evening to meet Yemen's President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi after being accused of being biased towards the Houthis, The National reported.

Griffiths brokered the ceasefire and troop withdrawal agreement during the peace talks in Sweden.

“The visit to Riyadh will be the special envoy’s second trip in nearly a month to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” a UN official said.

Hadi and Griffiths are expected to discuss the implementation of the Sweden agreement, the official said.

The Yemen conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since the Saudi-led military coalition intervened in support of the beleaguered government in March 2015, according to the World Health Organisation.

The fighting has also displaced millions and left 24.1 million - more than two-thirds of the population - in need of aid.