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Yemen War Taking Big Toll on Civilians

by Lisa Schlein January 05, 2016

New United Nations figures reveal the terrible toll the ongoing conflict in Yemen is taking on civilians. The U.N. human rights office reports more than 8,100 civilians were killed or wounded between March 26 and the end of last year, the vast majority from airstrikes by Saudi-led coalition forces.

Since Saudi Arabia began its bombing campaign against Houthi rebels at the end of March, the U.N. says 2,795 civilian men, women, and children have been killed and 5,324 wounded. The figures do not reveal the full extent of the tragic toll of this war, as they do not include fighters among the estimated number of dead and injured.

The U.N.-mediated peace talks on Yemen in mid-December in Geneva apparently were unable to stop the carnage. Indeed, the figures show the number of civilians killed in December by Saudi airstrikes was more than twice that in November.

U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville notes the cease-fire agreed to by the warring parties before the start of the talks was broken within minutes. He says airstrikes have continued into the New Year, with around 11 strikes taking place in the capital, Sana'a, this week and continuing into Tuesday.

"We have not yet been able to confirm whether or not these latest strikes have resulted in more civilian casualties, although initial reports indicate several private and public civilian buildings have been hit since Sunday, some of them located in densely populated areas of Sana'a,' said Colville.

Colville says the U.N. also has received alarming information on the alleged use of cluster bombs by coalition forces in Hajjah Governorate, with reports of several people having been maimed after stepping on unexploded sub-munitions.

He says the humanitarian situation for people in Taiz, the scene of violent clashes for more than eight months is particularly dire. He says rebel Houthi forces, who control entry points into the city, are limiting food and other essential relief from entering.

The U.N. refugee agency reports about 2.5 million people are internally displaced and 167,000 have fled Yemen to surrounding countries. Despite the chaotic situation, UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards tells VOA thousands of people continue to make the perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden or Red Sea into Yemen.

"About 70,000 people from the Horn of Africa arrived in Yemen last year after the violence broke out even with this desperate situation there,' said Edwards. 'So, it is a sort of mixed situation."

Edwards says those arriving in Yemen are caught in an extremely alarming situation. He says aid workers have very little access to them and have great difficulty in delivering critical aid to them.

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