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WFP accuses Houthi rebels of diverting humanitarian aid

More than 10,000 people have been killed since March 2015[Getty]

Date of publication: 31 December, 2018

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The UN World Food Programme (WFP) on Monday accused Houthi rebels of "criminal behaviour" in diverting humanitarian aid in war-stricken Yemen and threatened to end cooperation with them.

Yemen's Houthis are diverting humanitarian aid in the war-stricken country, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) alleged on Monday, accusing the rebels of "criminal behaviour". 

A large part of the food aid meant to help residents in the capital Sanaa has not reached them, the Rome-based WFP said in a statement.

Instead, reports had established some of the food had been put on sale in Sanaa markets by a rebel-controlled organisation which the WFP had entrusted to distribute the aid in the city.

The WFP said similar cases had been reported in other areas of the country controlled by the rebels.

"This conduct amounts to the stealing of food from the mouths of hungry people," WFP Executive Director David Beasley said in the statement.

"At a time when children are dying in Yemen because they haven’t enough food to eat, that is an outrage. This criminal behaviour must stop immediately," Beasely said.

He also called on the Houthi authorities "to take immediate action to end the diversion of food assistance."

"Unless this happens, we’ll have no option but to cease working with those who’ve been conspiring to deprive large numbers of vulnerable people of the food on which they depend," he said.

The Houthi rebels and the Saudi-supported government agreed a ceasefire which went into effect on December 18 but tensions remain high amid charges of bad faith by both sides.

On Saturday, the Houthis said they had handed over control of the port to the government's coast guard as part of confidence-building measures agreed this month in peace talks in Sweden. 

Reports on social media suggested that "control" of the port had been handed over to undercover Houthi fighters wearing coast guard uniforms.

The government denied the Houthi claims, saying the measure was a ploy by the rebels to maintain control of the port.

The United Nations on Sunday also casted doubts on the alleged handover of authority at the port, saying such steps can only be credible if all other parties can verify them.

"We cannot accept these violations, which will lead to the failure of the agreement," a government source was quoted by the loyalist Sabaa news agency as saying in response to the Houthi claims.

Government officials and army representatives said the Houthis had taken advantage of their control of the city to place their own administrators and fighters in both the port management and the coast guard.

"It's a stage play in which the Houthis handed over the port to their fighters after they put on coast guard uniforms," said the Hodeida governor, Al-Hassan Taher.

Control of Hodeida, a vital entry point for supplies on the Red Sea, has been a key bone of contention between the government of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Houthi rebels who control it. 

Disagreements over the port's handover and administration threatened to derail peace talks between the two sides held in Sweden earlier this month.

The Sweden talks marked the first meeting in two years between the northern Houthi rebels and the Hadi government that has been backed since 2015 by the Saudi-led coalition.

The last round of talks, hosted by Kuwait in 2016, collapsed after more than three months of negotiations with no breakthrough.

The Yemen conflict has triggered what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 14 million Yemenis now at the brink of mass starvation.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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