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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Terrorist and insurgents inserted on Yemen payrolls, Britain warns

Minister lashes out at deliberate abuse of attempts to pay Yemeni public servants that is undermining efforts to relieve crisis

British Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt. Getty Images
British Minister of State for Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt. Getty Images

Alistair Burt, the British foreign office minister for the Middle East, has warned that efforts to stabilise Yemen are being complicated by the deliberate inclusion of "insurgents and terrorists" on lists of public sector salaries.

Efforts to pay civil servants and other government employees is a top priority for mediators and humanitarian organisations seeking to increase money in the economy and stave off food shortages and the country's descent into near starvation.

Donor countries have sought to provide funds to both the Yemen government and the Houthi-run ministries in Sanaa so that public servants can draw salaries.

"There is a new and added complication in speaking to the UN over the weekend – not everybody on the list is necessarily all they seem.

"There are those on the lists who may be insurgents and who may be terrorists and nobody is going to hand over taxpayers money to just pay salaries to these people. This is a new complication done by those who seek to abuse these lists."

Mr Burt also dismissed suggestions that a UN Security Council resolution should be passed that demands a ceasefire in the Yemen conflict.

Speaking to parliament, Mr Burt said he was guided by the need to provide maximum support for the efforts of Martin Griffiths, the UN Secretary General's special envoy, who is attempting to restart negotiations with the Houthi rebels.

"The best way to use the United Nations Security Council is to support the role of UN special envoy Martin Griffiths," he said. "We don't want to do anything to undercut it.

"If you want to see an end to the conflict you will support Martin Griffiths and his efforts."

Mr Burt said Mr Griffiths, who was meeting the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday, continued to work to build confidence among the warring parties for negotiations after the failure of an attempt to kick start a new round of talks in Geneva in September.

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Mr Burt said that the Houthi leadership had been responsible for the failure of the Geneva initiative. He said the summit between the government of Yemen and its Houthi-led rivals was "thwarted by the Houthi" who refused to go the negotiations.

Attempts to blame logistic hurdles and the lack of humanitarian or medical evacuations were not credible.

"If they had wanted to be there, they would have gone," the long-serving minister said.

He added Houthis were responsible for abuse of humanitarian aid, systematic recruitment of child soldiers, interference with cholera fight and campaigns of targeted assassination.

It was a view echoed by Jan Egeland, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council and a former deputy to Kofi Annan as special envoy to Syria. He said the diplomatic failure was comparable to the lack of outside pressure on the Assad regime in 2012.

"Martin Griffiths is doing everything that can be done as a special envoy. He did everything right until Geneva but there was not enough pressure on the parties from the outside world. To me it echos the situation with Kofi Annan and the parties in Syria in 2012," Mr Egeland warned. "There wasn't enough pressure on these irresponsible parties."

The British parliament also heard a call from Marwa Baabbad, a researcher with the Oxford Research Group, for pressure on Iran to take responsibility for the Houthi groups it arms and funds.

"There is a perception among some Yemenis that the UN Special Envoy is not holding the Houthis accountable enough," she said. "The UK government should pressure Iran to stop arming the Houthis and hold them responsible for their attacks on their population."