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Yemen Rival Parties Agree to Hand UN Control of Hodeida


Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom (L), United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres (C) and UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths attend the Yemen peace talks closing press conference at the Johannesberg castle in Rimbo, near Stockholm, Dec. 13,

Talks between Yemen's two opposing sides outside the Swedish capital, Stockholm, ended Thursday with a key agreement to hand control of the key Red Sea port of Hodeida to the United Nations. But delegates failed to agree on reopening Sana'a Airport or resolving economic disputes. They will tentatively attend a fresh round of talks late next month.

The audience clapped in approval as the lead negotiators for both the internationally-recognized government of President Abdrabbu Mansour Hadi and the Houthi delegation unexpectedly shook hands, under the watchful eye of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Head of Houthi delegation Mohammed Abdul-Salam (R) and Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yaman (2 L) shake hands next to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom (L), during the Yemen peace talks closing press conference at the Johannesberg castle in Rimbo, near Stockholm, Dec. 13, 2018.
Head of Houthi delegation Mohammed Abdul-Salam (R) and Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yaman (2 L) shake hands next to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom (L), during the Yemen peace talks closing press conference at the Johannesberg castle in Rimbo, near Stockholm, Dec. 13, 2018.

The U.N. chief lauded the agreement.

"You have reached an agreement on Hodeida port and city, which will see a mutual redeployment of forces from the port and the city and the establishment of a governorate-wide cease-fire," he said.

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The U.N. is expected to administer the port and unblock humanitarian aid to the capital, Sana'a, and other parts of the country suffering from a humanitarian crisis. Each side also agreed to allow the U.N. to remove mines and explosives in the region.

Guterres said both parties will continue peace talks in January and attempt to reach agreement on outstanding issues, including reopening the airport and resolving economic disagreements.

At left, Abdelqader al-Murtada and Saelem Mohammed Noman Al-Mughalles, representatives of the Ansar Allah delegation and at right, Askar Zaeil and Hadi al-Hayi representing the delegation of the Government of Yemen react at the negotiating table together with representatives from the office of the U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen and the International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) when lists of prisoners are exchanged, a first step to implement the agreement to release all prisoners by the two parties, during the ongoing peace talks on Yemen held at Johannesberg Castle, in Rimbo, near Stockholm, Sweden, Dec. 11, 2018.
At left, Abdelqader al-Murtada and Saelem Mohammed Noman Al-Mughalles, representatives of the Ansar Allah delegation and at right, Askar Zaeil and Hadi al-Hayi representing the delegation of the Government of Yemen react at the negotiating table together with representatives from the office of the U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen and the International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) when lists of prisoners are exchanged, a first step to implement the agreement to release all prisoners by the two parties, during the ongoing peace talks on Yemen held at Johannesberg Castle, in Rimbo, near Stockholm, Sweden, Dec. 11, 2018.

"[Both sides] have agreed to engage in the discussions on a negotiating framework at the next meeting [in January]," he said. "This is a critical element for the future political settlement to end the conflict."

Guterres stressed that there is "no military solution to the conflict" and that negotiations are a "complex and lengthy process."

He thanked his special envoy, Martin Griffiths, for the "many shuttle trips" he made between capitals and delegations to reach an agreement.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, whose country hosted the lengthy talks, expressed gratitude for the goodwill shown by both sides.

"We came here a week ago with low expectations, but high ambitions," she said. "And we are happy that consultations have been taking place in a good spirit and in good faith and a good, concrete result in the end."

Head of Houthi delegation Mohammed Abdul-Salam speaks at the Yemen peace talks closing press conference at the Johannesberg castle in Rimbo, near Stockholm, Dec. 13, 2018.
Head of Houthi delegation Mohammed Abdul-Salam speaks at the Yemen peace talks closing press conference at the Johannesberg castle in Rimbo, near Stockholm, Dec. 13, 2018.

The top Houthi negotiator, Mohammed Abdul Salam, told journalists at a press conference that his delegation tried to be flexible and made many concessions.

He says that the Houthis agreed to mutual redeployment in Hodeida with the U.N. playing a role in overseeing the port and inspecting ships.

He maintained that the Houthis made concessions over Hodeida for the sake of the Yemeni people. But he said the Hadi government did not agree to discussions for a political settlement and expressed anger over the lack of an accord to reopen Sana'a Airport.

The Houthis say international flights should be searched by outside parties in either Egypt or Jordan. The Hadi government demands they be inspected at Aden Airport, which it controls.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yaman speaks at the Yemen peace talks closing press conference at the Johannesberg castle in Rimbo, near Stockholm, Dec. 13, 2018.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yaman speaks at the Yemen peace talks closing press conference at the Johannesberg castle in Rimbo, near Stockholm, Dec. 13, 2018.

Foreign Minister Khaled al Yamani, who headed the government delegation, said the Houthis failed to carry out "71 previous agreements." He argued the present agreement to hand Hodeida over to the U.N. was made "with the hypothetical understanding that [the Houthis] would carry it out."

Yamani also laid blamed the Houthis for the failure of economic talks, claiming they insisted that back salaries be paid to government employees that they hired, other than those on the payroll before the conflict began in 2014.

Houthi negotiator Abdul Salam, however, called this "political posturing." He also criticized the Hadi government's demand that planes be inspected at Aden Airport "because some Yemenis from Sana'a" were "arrested [there] in the past."

But Abdul Salam praised the agreement on the port, calling it a "good thing ... which reinforces the chances of peace in Yemen."

He added that "everyone hopes to end the war and lift the blockade of the country."

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