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UN urges swift release of staff held in Yemen

By AFP - Jul 10,2024 - Last updated at Jul 10,2024

Internally displaced Yemenis collect portable water at a camp in the Abs District of Hajjah Governorate on Tuesday (AFP photo)

GENEVA — The United Nations on Tuesday said it remained extremely worried about the fate of UN and NGO staff seized by Yemen's Huthi rebels, urging their immediate release.

Last month the Iran-backed Houthis detained more than a dozen people from UN agencies and non-governmental organisations in what appeared to be a coordinated move.

"We remain extremely worried about the well-being of 13 UN staff and a number of NGO employees who have been detained for over a month now by the Ansar Allah de facto authorities in Yemen. We continue to be refused access to them," UN human rights office spokesman Jeremy Laurence told a media briefing in Geneva.

"We also remain particularly concerned by the situation of two other UN staff members who were already in prolonged detention — one since November 2021 and the other since August 2023."

The Houthis claimed they had arrested “an American-Israeli spy network” operating under the cover of humanitarian organisations.

“We emphatically reject the shocking allegations, publicly broadcast, levelled against our staff, and we urge the de facto authorities in Sanaa to immediately and unconditionally release them,” said Laurence.

“Our office calls on those states and entities with influence over Ansar Allah to use it to secure the safe and prompt release of all detained UN and NGO staff.

“We are also deeply worried about the conditions in which they are being held.”

He said it was crucial that the Houthis ensure that those detained are treated with full respect for their human rights, and be allowed to contact their families and legal representatives.

“Further targeting of human rights and humanitarian workers in Yemen must cease immediately,” he insisted.

The Houthis are engaged in a long-running civil war that has triggered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. More than half of the population is dependent on aid in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.

The rebels seized control of the capital Sanaa in September 2014, prompting a Saudi-led military intervention on behalf of the government the following March.

They Houthis have kidnapped and tortured hundreds of civilians since the start of the conflict, according to

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