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UN officials speak out against Yemeni air raids resulting in civilian deaths

18 September 2009 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the United Nations human rights chief today voiced their deep concern about recent air strikes in northern Yemen – part of military operations against rebels based in the region – that have resulted in civilian casualties.

Dozens of internally displaced persons (IDPs) were reportedly killed in the 16 September air attack on a camp housing some of the 150,000 people uprooted by the latest round of fighting between the Government and Al Houthi rebels that began on 12 August.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban urged all sides to the conflict to immediately cease all fighting and to urgently allow humanitarian access to the afflicted areas.

Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the Yemeni Government to launch an investigation into Wednesday’s incident, and noted that it was the second deadly air strike resulting in civilian deaths in the space of three days.

“This is a deeply disturbing development in a conflict that was already troubling in terms of its impact on civilians,” she stated, reminding the Government and armed forces of their obligation to protect civilians caught up in fighting and to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law.

“The Government should launch a full-fledged investigation into what went wrong, and take immediate measures to try to ensure we do not see a further avoidable tragedy of this nature.”

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency today described the humanitarian situation of the civilians caught up in the conflict as “alarming,” adding that Sa'ada city remains virtually isolated from the rest of the world and inaccessible for UN relief workers.

“Most of the displaced are stranded and dangerously exposed to the fighting as they are unable to reach safer areas,” Melissa Fleming, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.

The agency said it is ready to launch a cross-border operation from Saudi Arabia to access and assist the IDPs scattered north of Sa'ada city, pending security clearances from both Governments.

“We are also calling on Saudi authorities to offer safe shelter and assistance to displaced Yemenis who may seek refuge across the border as they flee the fierce fighting in northern Yemen,” said Ms. Fleming.

She added that the magnitude of displacement in Yemen is beyond available local resources of host communities as most of the IDPs remain with their relatives, friends or neighbours adding strain on their meagre resources, and urged support from the international community.

A $23.7 million humanitarian appeal for Yemen launched earlier this month by the UN has not received any funding to date, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

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