UN envoy urges new pullouts from Yemen ports and peace steps

FILE - This Sept. 29, 2018 file photo shows idle cargo and oil tanker ships at the port of Hodeida, Yemen. On Saturday, May 11, 2019, Houthi rebels began a long-delayed withdrawal of their forces from the key port city, the group said, following the terms of a cease-fire. The U.N.-brokered agreement is aimed at alleviating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

CAIRO (AP) — The U.N. said Sunday it is monitoring the redeployment of rebel forces from three key ports in Yemen after the government dismissed the withdrawal as a "farce."

The rebels, known as Houthis, said Saturday they began the long-delayed redeployment of their forces from the key port of Hodeida, as well as the two smaller ports of Salif and Ras Issa, as part of a cease-fire reached in December.

The long-delayed redeployment is seen as a key first step toward ending the civil war, which erupted in 2014 when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa. A Saudi-led coalition joined the war the following year on the side of the government. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and the war has generated the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Lt. Gen. Michael Lollesgaard, the head of a U.N. mission overseeing the cease-fire, said U.N. teams watched as "the military forces left the ports and the Coast Guard took over responsibility for security."

He said the first day of the redeployment of Houthi forces went "in accordance with established plans." Activities in the following days are expected to focus on "removal of military manifestations and demining."

The monitors will verify the rebels' withdrawal on Tuesday, he said in a statement.

The government has dismissed the Houthi withdrawal, with Information Minister Moammer al-Iryani accusing the rebels of handing the ports off to "militia leaders in civilian clothes."

Both sides agreed in December to withdraw from Hodeida, which handles 70 percent of Yemen's food imports and humanitarian aid. But the U.N.-brokered deal was vague on who would control Hodeida's strategic ports after the withdrawal, saying only that a "local force" would take over.

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