UN says Yemen monitors safe after Hodeida shooting

Dubai (AFP) –


A United Nations team tasked with overseeing a truce in Yemen came under fire but was unharmed in the flashpoint city of Hodeida Thursday, hours after the Security Council approved expanding the mission.

Chief monitor Patrick Cammaert and his team were "safe in Hodeida following reported shooting incident", tweeted the spokesperson of the UN secretary general.

Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, a UN official confirmed that "shots were fired" at Cammaert's convoy and that the retired Dutch general was "safe".

The UN monitors arrived in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida -- the entry point for the bulk of Yemen's imports -- on December 23 to oversee a truce agreed by the warring sides last month at talks outside Sweden's capital Stockholm.

The deal has helped ease fighting for the city between Iran-backed Huthi rebels and government forces supported by a Saudi-led alliance.

The UN says the ceasefire has been generally holding despite some clashes, while the rebels and government have accused ease other of repeated violations.

- 'No dialogue' -

The shooting incident came one day after the UN Security Council unanimously approved an extended mission of up to 75 unarmed monitors to shore up the truce.

The new monitors will be sent to Hodeida city and port as well as to the ports of Saleef and Ras Issa for an initial period of six months.

The rebels have been particularly divided in their support for the UN-brokered agreement on the ceasefire and deployment of monitors, with some singling out Cammaert for criticism.

Rebel representative Mohammed al-Bukhaiti said the Huthis rejected the expanded UN mission.

"We will not accept dialogue around increasing the number of international monitors until the problem of Patrick Cammaert is resolved," Bukhaiti told AFP.

"Since his appointment, he has sought to see the Stockholm agreement fail."

Yemeni Information Minister Moammer al-Eryani on Thursday accused the Huthis of preventing UN monitors headed by Cammaert from going to a meeting with government officials.

Most of Yemen's supplies of imported goods and humanitarian aid comes through the port of Hodeida, providing a lifeline to millions on the brink of starvation.

The Huthis control most of Hodeida, while government forces are deployed on its southern and eastern outskirts.

The Saudi-led alliance also controls Yemen's maritime borders and has imposed a near-total blockade on the Hodeida port.

- Prisoner swap under discussion -

The Hodeida truce was the centrepiece of a series of the breakthroughs in Sweden widely seen as the best chance yet of calming Yemen's devastating four-year civil war.

Among the other key points brokered was a large-scale prisoner swap agreed as a confidence-building measure.

Yemeni government and rebel representatives met in Jordan Thursday to try to thrash out the details of the detainee exchange.

The swap could involve up to 15,000 prisoners from both sides and would be overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The talks in the Jordanian capital Amman came as international donors meet in Berlin to set up a fund to support the fledgling peace process in Yemen.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas pledged 4.5 millions euros as the opening contribution to the new peace process support fund.

The Yemen conflict has killed some 10,000 people since a Saudi-led military coalition intervened in support of the beleaguered government in March 2015, according to the World Health Organization.

Human rights groups say the real death toll could be five times as high.

The war has pushed 14 million Yemenis to the brink of famine in what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.