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Top Houthi negotiator calls for main Yemen port to be neutral zone

Hudaydah Port in Yemen [Giles Clarke/UN OCHA / Getty Images]
Hudaydah Port in Yemen [Giles Clarke/UN OCHA / Getty Images]

Yemen’s main port city should be declared a “neutral zone” and the United Nations could play a role in Sanaa airport, the Iran-aligned Houthis’ main negotiator said on Saturday on the sidelines of talks aimed at ending the Yemeni war, according to a Reuters report.

The Houthis control major population centres in Yemen, including the capital Sanaa and the Red Sea port of Hudaydah, a lifeline for millions of people that is now a focus of the war after the coalition launched a campaign to capture it this year.

Special envoy Martin Griffiths is trying to avert a full-scale assault on Hodeidah, the entry point for most of Yemen’s commercial goods and vital aid.

“It (Hodeidah) should be a neutral zone apart from the conflict, and the military brigades that came from outside Hudaydah province should leave,” Houthi negotiator, Mohammed Abdusalam, told Reuters in Rimbo on the sidelines of peace talks with the Saudi-backed government.

Read: Houthis reject government proposals over Sanaa airport in Yemen peace talks

The UN-sponsored talks, the first in more than two years, are focused on confidence-building steps, including reopening Sanaa airport and a truce in Hudaydah that could lead to a broader ceasefire in the nearly four-year-old conflict that has pushed Yemen to the verge of starvation.

Asked if Houthi forces would then withdraw from Hudaydah , Abdusalam said: “There will be no need for military presence there if battles stop…Hudaydah is an economic hub and it should stay that way for the sake of all Yemenis.”

“We have proposed to the UN to oversee the port and supervise its logistics… inspections, revenues and all the technical issues,” he said, while declining to say who will control the city if both forces leave.

Yemen’s government is sticking to its position that Hodeidah should be under its control.

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