UN aid chief 'denied passage' to Yemen's Taiz

UN aid chief 'denied passage' to Yemen's Taiz
The UN's chief of aid, Stephen O'Brien was denied access into Yemen's third largest city on Tuesday, where thousands of civilians continue to suffer under Houthi siege.
3 min read
01 March, 2017
The UN aid chief arrived in Yemen this week [AFP]

The UN aid chief was "denied passage" to Yemen's third largest city Taiz on Tuesday, where government loyalists are besieged by Houthi rebels, a UN statement said.

Stephen O'Brien's "convoy was denied passage at the final checkpoint before crossing the frontline" into Taiz, said a statement by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

He was prohibited from the flashpoint city "despite having received assurance of safe passage by all parties", the statement said.

OCHA did not name the party that prevented O'Brien's convoy from proceeding, but the route from the north to Taiz is controlled by the rebels and their allies.

"After being denied access, the convoy returned to safer ground to continue negotiating access with the authorities controlling the final checkpoint, but to no avail," OCHA said.

"O'Brien was extremely disappointed that humanitarian efforts to reach people in need were once again thwarted by parties to a conflict, especially at a time when millions of Yemenis are severely food insecure and face the risk of famine," it added.

A local official told AFP earlier that O'Brien was stopped at a rebel checkpoint in Hizran, 15 kilometres (nine miles) northwest of Taiz, while the government-run news agency Saba accused Houthi rebel forces of opening fire at his convoy.

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In a statement carried by Saba, the government said the rebels blocked O'Brien's access to Taiz to "prevent the truth about the situation in the city, including a suffocating siege... from reaching the world".

However, a UN source in Yemen earlier claimed that O'Brien had been forced to cancel his visit to Taiz for alleged "security reasons".

The convoy travelling from the capital Sanaa had to change route because of shelling on the road to the south western city, said police captain Oussama Al-Charaabi, head of government security services in Taiz.

The UN source said O'Brien was now slated to visit a school in the southwestern Ibb province housing internally displaced Yemenis from the Red Sea coastal town of Mokha, controlled by government loyalists since January.

Forces loyal to President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, backed by a Saudi-led Arab coalition, have held out in Taiz where they are surrounded by the Houthis and their allies.

The rebels control Sanaa and much of the northern highlands of Yemen, where conflict has escalated over the past two years.

O'Brien, who is on a week-long tour of Yemen, Somalia and Kenya, warned on Monday that seven million Yemenis face "serious risk of famine" unless international donors intervene.

A further 19 million of Yemen's 26-million population now need humanitarian aid, he told a news conference.

The United Nations has called for $2.1 billion in humanitarian aid for Yemen, where UN mediation and seven ceasefire accords have failed to end a conflict that O'Brien said has cost more than 7,500 lives and left 40,000 people wounded.

The war in Yemen pits Hadi's internationally recognised government against Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The fighting has intensified since the coalition intervened in support of Hadi in March 2015 after the Houthis seized Sanaa the previous September.