SANAA, Yemen -- The United Nations cast doubt Sunday on claims by Yemen's Shiite rebels to have withdrawn from the Red Sea port of Hodeida, saying such steps can only be credible if all other parties can verify them.
Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said the rebels, known as Houthis, also failed to honor an agreement to open a "humanitarian" corridor between Hodeida and the capital, Sanaa, to deliver assistance. Both cities are under rebel control.
He said retired Dutch Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert, who heads a U.N. team of monitors in Hodeida, has expressed his "disappointment at their missed opportunity to build confidence between the parties" in a meeting with rebel representatives about their failure to open the corridor.
The confidence-building measures agreed in Sweden this month, which include an exchange of prisoners, could pave the way for a political settlement of Yemen's 4-year-old war, which pits the Iran-aligned Houthis against the government and a Saudi-led coalition.
The two sides have observed a cease-fire in Hodeida for nearly two weeks, ending months of fierce fighting for control of the city. Some 70 percent of Yemen's imports come through Hodeida, and the Sweden deal is designed in part to facilitate the delivery of relief supplies to pull Yemen back from the brink of famine.
The fighting in Yemen, the poorest Arab nation, has killed tens of thousands of people and driven millions to hunger. The U.N. calls it the world's worst humanitarian disaster.
The Houthis said Saturday they handed over control of the Hodeida port to the coast guard under the Sweden agreement, but the government denied this, saying it was a ploy by the rebels to maintain control. Government officials said the Houthi-appointed commander of the coast guard in Hodeida is a longtime rebel commander who had never served in the coast guard before.
The estimated 300 members of Hodeida's coast guard had not reported for work in months and have been replaced by personnel loyal to the Houthis, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
In his meeting with the rebel representatives, Cammaert welcomed the Houthis' efforts to start implementation of the Sweden agreement, but noted that this must be "concurrent," said Dujarric, the U.N. spokesman. The Dutch envoy also emphasized that any redeployment would only be credible if all parties and the U.N. were able to observe and verify it.
Cammaert planned to meet Tuesday with representatives of both sides to discuss "the redeployment plans of the parties and the liaison, monitoring and coordination mechanism that will be required to monitor the ceasefire and ensure that credible redeployment is achieved," according to Dujarric.