Yemen's Houthis start withdrawing from two ports in Hodeidah

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The first day of a withdrawal of forces by Yemen's Houthi movement from three of the country's Red Sea ports went "in accordance with established plans", the head of a United Nations mission to monitor the deal said on Sunday.

The agency said that as soon as redeployment is complete, it would help upgrade port facilities including watch towers, berths and the navigation channels.

"The coast guards have taken over in Saleef", said the witness, who was at the port.

Some officials from the Saudi-backed, internationally recognized Yemeni government dismissed the pullout as a "show", but government negotiator Sadiq Dweid acknowledged it marked the start of implementing the Stockholm accord.

Under the deal brokered by the United Nations in December, the warring parties agreed to withdraw from Hudaydah city and the ports of Hudaydah, Salif and Ras Issa.

The Yemeni information minister, Moammar al-Eryani, has castigated the proposal as "innacurate" and "misleading", arguing that any withdrawl of forces that does not envisage "joint verification" by the parties is "elusive and manipulative".

"The Houthi militia must withdraw from the wharves and from around the ports completely", Col Al Dubaish said.

"It's an attempt to misinform the worldwide community ahead of a meeting of the U.N. Security Council" on Yemen, he said.

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The British ambassador to Yemen reacted sharply to the Yemeni government's scepticism about Houthi withdrawal.

Pro-government forces have twice tried to seize the port, and accuse the Houthis of using it to smuggle in weapons from Iran.

It was not clear if United Nations special envoy Martin Griffiths had secured agreement between the two sides over the main sticking point regarding which local authorities would control the ports and city under United Nations supervision after both sides withdraw. The group and Tehran deny the accusations.

"The Houthis want to show that they are implementing the agreement by announcing unilateral withdrawal but all their violations and military actions on the ground indicate that there will be no withdrawal at all", the expert said. Coalition forces, now massed 4km from Hodeidah port on the edges of the city, are to retreat 1km from two flashpoint districts.

Last December, the warring parties attended long-awaited UN-brokered peace talks in Sweden.

They are also expected to leave positions around the outskirts of Hodeida in the initial redeployment, before a second phase in which both sides pull back further.

The military coalition led by Riyadh intervened in March 2015 when President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi fled into exile in Saudi Arabia after the rebels captured swathes of the country.

The agreement previous year in Sweden was hailed as a breakthrough that offered the best chance so far of ending the war in Yemen, where a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is fighting on the government's side.

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