UN demands investigation into ‘criminal’ Houthi food aid theft in Yemen

Yemenis collect humanitarian aid from the World Food Program in Sanaa. (AFP/file)
Updated 01 January 2019
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UN demands investigation into ‘criminal’ Houthi food aid theft in Yemen

  • Even with the influx of food aid, hunger and famine-level starvation continue to grow
  • In 2018 the UN, the US, Saudi Arabia and others poured more than $4 billion in food, shelter, medical assistance

CAIRO: The UN food agency on Monday threatened to suspend some aid shipments to Yemen if the Houthi militia do not investigate and stop theft and fraud in food distribution, warning that the suspension would effect some 3 million people.
The World Food Program's ultimatum was an unprecedentedly strong warning, pointing to how corruption has increased the threat of famine in Yemen, which faces the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
In a letter sent to militant leader Abdul-Malek Al-Houthi, WFP director David Beasley said that a survey carried by the agency showed that aid is only reaching 40 percent of eligible beneficiaries in the rebel-held capital, Sanaa. Only a third are receiving aid in the rebels' northern stronghold of Saada.
"If you don't act within 10 days, WFP will have no choice but to suspend the assistance ... that goes to nearly 3 million people," the letter said. "This criminal behavior must stop immediately."
The Iran-aligned Houthis, who control much of northern Yemen, have been at war with forces loyal to the internationally recognized government after they seized the Yemeni capital in 2014.  The stalemated conflict has driven the Arab world's poorest country to the brink of famine, with millions suffering from extreme hunger.
The Associated Press reported Monday that armed factions are stealing much-needed food aid, diverting it to their fighters or reselling it for profit. Some groups are blocking deliveries to communities they view as their enemies.
Earlier Monday, the WFP accused the Houthis of stealing "from the mouths of hungry people" and diverting food deliveries. The UN agency said it obtained photographic evidence showing rebels seizing food and manipulating lists of aid recipients.
The WFP is helping around 8 million hungry people in Yemen and has been working to increase its scope to reach a total 12 million. It wants an overhaul of the relief system, including biometric registration, but says the rebels resist such measures.


Germany wants trial for Syria militants but warns of difficulties

Updated 54 min 38 sec ago
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Germany wants trial for Syria militants but warns of difficulties

  • ‘We must be able to ensure that prosecution is possible’
  • The minister noted that there is ‘no government in Syria with which we have a sensible relationship’

BERLIN: Germany vowed Monday to prosecute German Daesh fighters but warned that it would be “extremely difficult” to organize the repatriation of European nationals from Syria, after US President Donald Trump called on allies to take back alleged militants.
Syria’s US-backed Kurdish forces, which are battling Daesh group militants in their last redoubt in eastern Syria, hold hundreds of suspected foreign Daesh fighters and the calls for their reluctant home countries to take them back have grown in urgency.
“We must be able to ensure that prosecution is possible,” Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told Bild daily.
Underlining the difficulties however of putting the ex-fighters on trial, the minister noted that there is “no government in Syria with which we have a sensible relationship.”
President Bashar “Assad cannot be our counterpart, the Syrian-democratic forces are not a unity government,” she added, stressing that proof and witness statements needed to be secured in Syria if the militants are to be put on trial.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said separately that a return could only be possible if “we can guarantee that these people can be immediately sent here to appear in court and that they will be detained.”
For this, “we need judicial information, and this is not yet the case,” Maas told ARD television late Sunday. Under such conditions a repatriation would be “extremely difficult to achieve.”
Berlin wants to “consult with France and Britain ... over how to proceed,” he said.
The subject is to be raised on Monday at a meeting of European foreign ministers called to discuss among other issues “the situation in Syria, in particular the recent developments on the ground,” according to an agenda for the talks.
Trump on Sunday called on his European allies to take back alleged militants captured in Syria.
Daesh imposed a self-declared caliphate across parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq from 2014, but has since lost all of it except a tiny patch of less than half a square kilometer near the Iraqi border.
After years of fighting Daesh, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) hold hundreds of foreigners accused of fighting for the group, as well as their wives and children.
Syria’s Kurds have repeatedly called for their countries of origin to take them back, but these nations have been reluctant.
“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 Daesh fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” Trump said in a tweet.
After initial reluctance, Paris appears ready to consider the return of its nationals.
In Belgium, Justice Minister Koen Geens called for a “European solution” on Sunday, calling for “calm reflection and looking at what would be the least security risks.”