Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 February 2020

UN agencies meet in Brussels to discuss Yemen aid freeze

The UN organisations are coordinating their response to interference by Iran-backed Houthi rebels

A boy unloads food rations provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) at an aid distribution center in Sana'a, Yemen, 11 February 2020 EPA
A boy unloads food rations provided by the World Food Programme (WFP) at an aid distribution center in Sana'a, Yemen, 11 February 2020 EPA

UN aid agencies met with donor nations in Brussels on Thursday to discuss a freeze in aid to Yemen, a response to demands by Houthi rebels for a two per cent levy on supplies.

The United Nations agencies, which included the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), have held two days of talks as they grapple with interference by the Houthis to aid distribution in areas under the Iran-backed group’s control.

But it was reported by AFP on Friday that the Houthis had dropped the threat, according to an unnamed UN diplomat in Sanaa.

The rebels, which have stepped up their attacks against government forces in recent months, had demanded a two per cent tax on all aid moving through territory they control.

In the past, aid agencies like the WFP have accused the Houthis of looting UN supplies and blocking them from reaching civilians. Control of aid distribution has also become a tactic used by the Houthis to retain power.

Yemen is the biggest humanitarian crisis on earth, the UN has said. Millions of people in the country live on the verge of starvation.

Last month, aid workers said their agencies would have no choice but to reduce assistance provided by organisations like the WFP, which currently feeds more than 12 million people a month, in Yemen.

Resisting the militia’s demands for revenue from aid shipments into the country is particularly key in the context of the US policy on Iran, which has seen transfers to the Houthi camp from Tehran dry up. “There is a window to achieve something in Yemen because of the policy of maximum pressure,” officials close to the Arab coalition said.

Saudi Arabia has also announced that its Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT) referred 182 cases to judicial authorities and has found there were breaches of the rules of engagement in 22 incidents.

The incidents examined included a 2016 attack at a medical facility in Abs in the Hajjah governorate, a wedding in Bani Qayis in 2018 and on a bus in Dahyan in the same year.

“There must be full compliance with the law of armed conflict including the need for proportionality and the principle of necessity,” an official told a briefing in London. He told the briefing that the final sentences in the cases would be announced soon.

Updated: February 14, 2020 02:47 PM



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