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UN talks bring Yemen's warring sides closer to pullback of forces

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United Nations (United States) (AFP)

Three days of UN-brokered talks between Yemen's government and Huthi rebels have brought the warring parties closer to agreement on redeploying their forces from the flashpoint of Hodeida, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Envoys from the two sides have been meeting aboard a UN vessel in the port of Hodeida since Sunday to hammer out details of the military pullback in line with a ceasefire deal reached in Sweden in December.

The UN push to persuade pro-government forces and Huthi militias to abide by the Stockholm agreement is "beginning to pay off," said a UN statement.

"Today, the parties are closer to agreeing modalities for phase one redeployment than they were six weeks ago," it added.

Phase one provides for a redeployment from the ports of Hodeida, Saleef, Ras Issa and from parts of the city where there are humanitarian facilities, according to the agreement.

That was scheduled to happen two weeks after the ceasefire went into force on December 18, but that deadline was missed as the government and Huthis were locked in a dispute over the interpretation of the agreement.

The ceasefire and the redeployment of forces agreed in Stockholm have been hailed as major step toward ending Yemen's devastating four-year war, but UN officials have warned that the peace gains are fragile.

The talks aboard the ship were led by retired Dutch general Patrick Cammaert, who on Tuesday handed over his duties as head of the UN observer mission in Yemen to Danish General Michael Lollesgaard.

Lollesgaard will chair a new round of talks aboard the ship on Wednesday.

The meetings are to address the "complexities of disengaging forces in close proximity of each other and the gradual redeployment of heavy weapons, armor, and infantry," added the statement.

The Red Sea port of Hodeida is the entry point for the bulk of Yemen's imported goods and humanitarian aid, providing a lifeline to millions in the Arab world's poorest country.

Yemen's rebels have been mired in a war with government forces backed since 2015 by a Saudi-led coalition.

The conflict has triggered what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with millions of people at risk of starvation.

The World Health Organization has put the death toll since 2015 at about 10,000 people but rights groups say the figure could be five times higher.

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