Tuesday, December 6, 2011

U.N. urges halt to killings in Yemen, access for aid

Tue Dec 6, 2011
GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations called on all factions in Yemen on Tuesday to cease attacks on civilians and urged the government to allow access for aid supplies and U.N. human rights monitors.
In coordinated statements, the U.N. human rights office, the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Yemen Humanitarian Coordinator voiced concern about the deteriorating situation despite the signing of a peace deal nearly two weeks ago.
"We condemn continuing attacks on civilians particularly in Taiz where we are seeing reports that 22 people have been killed in shooting and shelling since Thursday last week (December 1), including two children," Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, told a news briefing.
"The continued use of disproportionate force by part of the government security forces despite commitments made to investigate serious human rights violations is extremely disappointing," she said. "The killings must stop immediately and we urge all sides to halt the use of violent force."
Forces loyal to outgoing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh shot dead a woman at a protest march in Taiz on Monday, witnesses and activists said, despite tanks withdrawing under a ceasefire pact.
Anti-Saleh tribesmen brandishing Kalashnikov rifles and members of the Republican Guard, led by Saleh's son Ahmed, were still on many of Taiz's streets, witnesses said.
UNICEF said that its figures showed that 3 children had been killed and 7 injured in the latest round of violence in Taiz, some 200 km (120 miles) south of the capital Sanaa.
"That brings the total number of children killed so far to 138, the majority through live ammunition. This includes bullets, shelling and missile attacks," UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said, adding that 568 children had been wounded to date.
"Our youngest victim thus far was 3 months old, killed in Taiz on the first of December," she told reporters in Geneva.
Heavy shelling and street fighting have damaged civilian neighbourhoods and forced many residents to flee their homes in Taiz, the Yemen Humanitarian Country Team that links U.N. and other aid agencies said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
"Access to basic social services is increasingly limited and schools and hospitals have been occupied or come under attack by armed forces and armed groups," depriving more than 100,000 children of access to schooling or health care, it said.
"We call upon all armed actors involved in the conflict in Taiz to ensure the safety and protection of all civilians in accordance with universally recognised principles of human rights and international humanitarian law," said Jens Toyberg-Frandzen, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.

YEMEN: Children at risk as aid access denied

SANA’A, 6 December 2011 (IRIN) - Thousands of people under “siege” by armed rebels in northern Yemen lack food and healthcare, which has already resulted in deaths and risks killing many more, local leaders and aid workers say.
Four children under five have died of hunger since Houthi gunmen cut off access to Dammaj village more than a month ago, Ahmad al-Qurashi, of the local NGO Seyaj Organization for Childhood Protection (SOCP), told IRIN.
The village, 9km southeast of Sa’ada City, the capital of Sa’ada governorate, is home to about 12,000 people. The area is controlled by the rebels but is home to an institute for Islamic Salafi teachings, Dar al-Hadith, which is at the centre of the conflict.
Up to 200 other children are at high risk due to the lack of food, water and medical supplies, according to Hussein al-Hajouri, a spokesman for Dar al-Hadith. They could die if aid organizations are not allowed access, he said.
"The situation is getting much worse for those stranded children amid lack of food, fuel and medical supplies,” said SOCP chairman Ahmad al-Qurashi. “Healthcare centres in the area have become inaccessible."
All the roads to medical centres are blocked or unsafe. “For this reason, mothers are compelled to deliver at home unattended,” Al-Hajouri told IRIN. “Last week, a woman died in labour at home after [being in pain] for six days. A number of new-borns have died due to lack of medical services."
Three elderly men have also died because they could not obtain their regular medication, according to the local independent news website, Sahafah.net.
An armed conflict between the Houthi rebels, who belong to an extreme Shi’a sect of Islam, and Salafi residents of the town, who subscribe to the fundamentalist Sunni branch of Islam taught at Dar al-Hadith, has now killed 30 people and injured dozens more since it erupted in the final week of October, according to Dhaifallah Solaiman, a local council member from Sa’ada.
On 3 December, SOCP made a humanitarian appeal to save the lives of some 3,000 children stranded in Dammaj.
A team with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was finally able to enter the area on 2 December to provide urgently needed humanitarian assistance, said communication coordinator Rabab al-Rifai.
According to Al-Rifai, the initial assistance consisted of 500 rations of food, which included wheat grain, rice, beans, sugar, salt and cooking oil.
The ICRC also provided medical items – dressing kits, intravenous fluids, painkillers and antibiotics – and several people were transferred to hospital for treatment. In view of the cold winter, the ICRC also made available 1,000 blankets, soap and nappies to help improve hygiene conditions.
“Thousands of people who live in this part of Sa'ada governorate have been denied access to essential commodities, including their daily needs in food and basic medicines,” said Eric Marclay, head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen. “This is taking its toll on the population there, namely the sick, the elderly, women and children, but also the injured.”
Fuel shortages
Complicating matters further, the stranded civilians say they cannot use the wheat grains they received from ICRC because of a lack of fuel in their village.
"We don't need wheat,” Moflih Hajar told IRIN from Dammaj. “How can we have it grinded into flour? All the grinding machines in the village have been closed down due to lack of diesel."
He said almost all the families that received wheat were still without food. "Our children and ourselves need bread, which is impossible to make under the status quo.”
Source of conflict
Sectarian tensions between the Shi’a Houthis and the Salafi students have existed for years, with each trying to spread their ideology in the area. Politics are also at play. The rebels support the popular uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, while the Salafis believe that a ruler must be obeyed and respected and have issued edicts banning protests.
But according to the local weekly Yemen Times, the current conflict surfaced last month after a letter, written by Yahya al-Hajouri, head of Dar al-Hadith, was leaked to the Houthis. The letter expressed thanks to both the Yemeni and Saudi governments for fighting the Houthis in 2009. The Houthis attacked Dar al-Hadith and residential homes suspected of housing armed Salafis. The latter fired back. The Houthis then resorted to heavy artillery and banned entry and exit from the village.
Dar al-Hadith is run by a hard-core Salafi group and teaches about 7,000 students, including women and children, from Yemen and foreign nations.
Mohammed Abdussalam, a spokesman for the Houthis, accused Salafi students at Dar al-Hadith of attacking them from time to time. "They have been attempting to take over strategic military positions outside their area," he said.
The Houthis have been waging attacks and provoking war inside Yemen since 2004.

Yemen opposition blames regime for killings

By Wissam Keyrouz (AFP)
Dec 6, 2011
SANAA — A civilian was killed when a shell hit a bus in Yemen's second city of Taez where fighting has cost more than 30 lives since last week, medics said, as the opposition blamed the regime for the violence.
The bus was heading towards the restive northern Al-Hasab district of the flashpoint city late on Monday when it was hit by an artillery round fired by troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the sources said.
"One passenger was killed while several others were wounded," a medic said.
After a lull in the fighting on Sunday, clashes between armed tribesmen and Saleh's forces erupted in Taez late on Monday.
Earlier the same day, two women were killed and six people were wounded when Saleh's forces fired on a crowd of anti-regime protesters in the city.
The latest deaths brought to 34 the number of people killed in Taez since Thursday.
Brief overnight clashes between tribesmen loyal to dissident tribal chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar and Saleh's troops also shook Sanaa's northern Al-Hasaba district, but no casualties were reported.
Both Sanaa and Taez were quiet later on Tuesday, residents said.
Hundreds of people have been killed nationwide since an uprising began against Saleh's 33-year-long rule in late January.
On November 23, Saleh signed a Gulf-brokered and UN-backed transfer deal to transfer power to his deputy, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, in return for immunity from prosecution.
Opposition spokesman Mohammed Qahtan accused "Saleh and his sons" of orchestrating the violence in Taez.
Saleh's son Ahmed commands the elite Republican Guards, who have been repeatedly locked in deadly confrontations with dissidents.
Opposition sources have said the ambassadors of several Gulf and Western countries in Sanaa, monitoring the implementation of the Gulf deal, have asked to visit Taez.
Monday's killings came a day after Hadi formed a military commission under the Gulf Cooperation Council agreement to oversee the restructuring of the security forces, many of which are controlled by Saleh's relatives.
The official Saba news agency said the 14-member commission would also oversee the withdrawal of gunmen from the streets.
Meanwhile, Saba said on Tuesday that 110 officers and soldiers from the First Armoured Brigade led by dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar had been arrested.
Led by General Sadiq Ali Sarhan, the soldiers were sent to Taez to "implement a terrorist plan by (the Islamist) Al-Islah (reform) party and its civilians and army branches and arms... to occupy the city and cause trouble," it said.
The statement accused General Ahmar, whose troops protect protesters in Sanaa, of plotting to seize control of "Yemeni cities one after the other and carry out assassinations" in Taez.
A ceasefire was reported on Saturday in Taez between pro-Saleh troops and armed tribesmen who have thrown their support behind the mass protest movement.
The developments came as prime minister-designate Mohammed Basindawa was expected to announce a national unity government within two days, a European diplomat and a Yemeni official said on Sunday.
"There are no problems regarding the government. It will be formed today or tomorrow," Qahtan said on Tuesday.
"Both sides have agreed not to propose provocative names to take part in the government," said Qahtan, adding that he himself was "a provocative name."
Under the Gulf initiative, half of the government must be opposition members, with regime loyalists making up the other half.