|Date: Jun 5, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|U.N. envoy in talks with Houthis to cede Hudaida port|
ADEN / GENEVA: The U.N. Yemen mediator is in talks with the Houthi movement to hand over control of Hudaida port to the United Nations in an attempt to avert a possible assault on the city by an Arab-led coalition, Yemeni political sources said. Martin Griffiths arrived in the Houthi-held capital Sanaa Saturday as coalition-backed troops moved to within 10 kilometers of the Red Sea port, long a key target in the war, according to local military officials, who said the advance had paused in the last few days.
“He [Griffiths] comes with a proposal for the Houthis to place Hudaida port under U.N. supervision,” said a senior Yemeni politician close to the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbou Mansour Hadi, who is in exile.
A source close to the Iran-aligned Houthi movement confirmed that the proposal was being thoroughly discussed as did a second source close to Hadi’s government.
An official spokesperson for the Arab-led coalition did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Unidentified forces attacked a U.N. aid vessel off the main Yemeni port at the weekend and started a fire in the engine room, port authorities said.
The U.N. aid chief, Mark Lowcock, confirmed there had been an incident but said it was now over and all were safe, without elaborating.
The vessel used by the U.N. World Food Program was attacked after delivering a shipment at the port, Yemen’s Red Sea Ports Corporation said.
A WFP spokeswoman said an unidentified armed group “aboard a skiff had opened fire and attempted to take over” the vessel that was 60 kilometers off the coast of Hudaida.
“Both the crew and the vessel are safe, with no injuries or obvious damage to the vessel,” spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said in a statement sent to Reuters.
The ship was waiting in anchorage for permission to leave from an Arab-led military coalition, the Ports Corporation added.
“There was an incident,” Lowcock told Reuters in Geneva.
“We don’t know who’s responsible. We’re investigating and the incident is over.”
Last month the U.S.-backed coalition said it had foiled attacks by explosives-laden speedboats deployed by the Houthis against commercial vessels, including an oil tanker, in the Red Sea, and in April a Saudi oil tanker was hit off of Hudaida, suffering limited damage.
A coalition spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the boarding.
Coalition-backed troops have been advancing on Hudaida, but it is not clear if they plan to seize the port, which handles the bulk of Yemen’s commercial imports and aid supplies.
Asked about a possible coalition ground assault on the port, a lifeline for some 8 million Yemenis being fed by the world body, Lowcock said: “There’s no port more important than Hudaida. “So anything which called into question the operation of Hudaida would be a matter of deepest concern.”
Riyadh says the Houthis are using the port to smuggle Iranian-made weapons, accusations denied by the group and Tehran. U.N. inspectors check ships to ensure they do not carry weapons.
Yemen’s war has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced 3 million and pushed the impoverished country to the verge of starvation.