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Yemen’s Houthi rebels detain at least 9 UN staff members in sudden crackdown

The detentions come as a US-led coalition is increasing financial pressure and airstrikes against the rebels.


At least nine Yemeni employees of United Nations agencies have been detained by Yemen’s Houthi rebels under unclear circumstances, authorities said on Friday.

The detentions come as the rebels are facing increasing financial pressure and airstrikes from a US-led coalition. The Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital nearly a decade ago and have been fighting a Saudi-led coalition since shortly after, have been targeting shipping throughout the Red Sea corridor over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

Regional officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the UN detentions. Those held include staff from the UN human rights agency, its development program, the World Food Program and one working for the office of its special envoy, the officials said. The wife of one of those held is also detained.

The UN declined to immediately comment.

The Mayyun Organization for Human Rights, which similarly identified the UN staffers held, named other aid groups whose employees were detained by the Houthis across four provinces that the Houthis hold — Amran, Hodeida, Saada and Saana.

“We condemn in the strongest terms this dangerous escalation, which constitutes a violation of the privileges and immunities of United Nations employees granted to them under international law, and we consider it to be oppressive, totalitarian, blackmailing practices to obtain political and economic gains,” the organisation said in a statement.

Many of the groups mentioned didn’t immediately acknowledge the detentions.

Activists, lawyers and others also began an open online letter, calling on the Houthis to immediately release those detained, because if they don’t, it “helps isolate the country from the world.”

It’s unclear what sparked the detentions. However, it comes as the Houthis have faced issues with having enough currency to support the economy in areas they hold — something signalled by their move to introduce a new coin into the Yemeni currency, the riyal.

Yemen’s exiled government in Aden and other nations criticised the move, saying the Houthis are turning to counterfeiting. Aden authorities also have demanded all banks move their headquarters there.

“Internal tensions and conflicts could spiral out of control and lead Yemen into complete economic collapse,” warned Yemeni journalist Mohammed Ali Thamer in an analysis published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Bloomberg separately reported on Thursday that the US planned to further increase economic pressure on the Houthis by blocking their revenue sources.

The war in Yemen has killed more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, killing tens of thousands more. The Houthis’ attacks on shipping have helped deflect attention from their problems at home and the stalemated war.

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