Yemen’s Houthi rebels have begun a long-delayed withdrawal of their forces from key ports in Hodeidah province, the group said, under the terms of a UN-brokered peace agreement aimed at ending the country’s four-year-long civil war.
Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said the pullout from Hodeidah as well as the Saleef and Ras Issa ports started at 10am local time (07:00GMT) on Saturday.
The Houthi-run Al Masirah TV channel said United Nations observers were monitoring the troop redeployment which is expected to take four days in total.
Reuters news agency, citing a witness, reported that UN teams were overseeing the Houthis’ departure from Saleef and Ras Issa.
The Reuters witness said the Yemeni coastguard had taken command of operations at Saleef after a dozen trucks carrying Houthi fighters, armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and machine guns, departed from the port.
A senior pro-government official, however, accused the Houthis of faking a pullout.
“The Houthis are staging a new ploy by handing over the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef and Ras Issa to themselves without any monitoring by the United Nations and the government side,” provincial governor Al-Hasan Taher told AFP news agency.
Moammar al-Eryani, information minister of Yemen‘s internationally-recognised government, also dismissed the redeployment, alleging it was an attempt to “disinform the international community”.
“What happened today is a flagrant show, a group of [Houthi] militiamen left [the city] and they were replaced by others wearing coastguard police uniforms,” al-Eryani told Reuters.