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After rebel pullback, Yemen at a crossroads: UN envoy

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United Nations (United States) (AFP)

The UN envoy for Yemen warned Wednesday that despite a rebel withdrawal from key ports, the country still faced the threat of a resumption of all-out war.

"Despite the significance of the last few days, Yemen remains at the crossroads between war and peace," Martin Griffiths told the UN Security Council.

Griffiths said Yemen's government and Huthi rebels must press on with further redeployments of forces and return to the negotiating table for talks on a broader peace settlement.

"There are signs of hope," he added, but there are also "alarming signs" of war.

The envoy addressed the council after the Huthis pulled out of three Red Sea ports, in line with a ceasefire deal reached in Stockholm in December.

The pullback from Hodeida, Saleef and Ras Issa marked the first concrete step to implement the Stockholm agreement, which was hailed as a breakthrough in efforts to end the war.

Under the first stage of the redeployment, the rebels handed over control of the ports to a "coast guard," but some government officials said these forces were in fact rebel fighters in different uniforms.

Despite the fragile progress, Griffiths hailed "a new beginning in Hodeida," saying that "change is now a reality."

Hodeida is the main entry point for the bulk of Yemen's imports and humanitarian aid, providing a lifeline to millions of people who are on the brink of famine.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, many of them civilians, relief agencies say.

A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to push back an advance by the rebels, who continue to hold the capital Sanaa, and to restore to power President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The war, which has dragged on for more than four years, has triggered the world's worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations.

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