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.


Libya reopens Tripoli’s only functioning airport

Updated 40 min 48 sec ago
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Libya reopens Tripoli’s only functioning airport

  • Mitiga airport was closed earlier in the day when residents reported an air strike on the Libyan capital
  • Mitiga airport offers air links to a city of an estimated 2.5 million residents

TRIPOLI: Libya has reopened Tripoli’s only functioning airport, aviation authorities said on a post on social media on Sunday.

Mitiga airport was closed earlier in the day when residents reported an air strike on the Libyan capital, but a later Facebook post noted the arrival of an African Airlines aircraft from Istanbul.

A Reuters reporter and several residents said they saw an aircraft circling for more than 10 minutes over the capital late on Saturday, and that it made a humming sound before opening fire on several areas.

An aircraft was heard again after midnight, circling for more than ten minutes before a heavy explosion shook the ground.

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It was not clear whether an aircraft or unmanned drone was behind the strike, which triggered heavy anti-aircraft fire. Residents had reported drone strikes in recent days, but there has been no confirmation and explosions heard in the city center this time were louder than in previous days.

Residents counted several missile strikes, one of which apparently hit a military camp of forces loyal to Tripoli in the Sabaa district in the south of the capital, scene of the heaviest fighting between the rival forces.

Authorities earlier closed Tripoli’s only functioning airport, cutting air links to a city of an estimated 2.5 million residents. The airport in Misrata, a city 200 km to the east, remained open.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) force loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar started an offensive two weeks ago but has been unable to breach the government’s southern defenses.

If a drone strike was confirmed this would point to more sophisticated warfare. The LNA has so far mainly used aging Soviet-made jets from the air force of Muammar Qaddafi, toppled in 2011, lacking precision firepower and helicopters, according to residents and military sources.

The violence spiked after the White House said on Friday that US President Donald Trump spoke by telephone with Haftar earlier in the week.

The disclosure of the call and a US statement that it “recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources” has boosted the commander’s supporters and enraged his opponents.

Western powers have been divided over a push by Haftar’s forces to seize Tripoli, undermining calls by the United Nations for a cease-fire.

Both sides claimed progress in southern Tripoli on Saturday, but no more details were immediately available.

A Reuters TV cameraman visiting the southern Khalat Furgan suburb heard heavy shelling but saw no apparent change in the frontline.

On Friday, two children were killed in shelling in southern Tripoli, residents said. The fighting has killed 227 people and wounded 1,128, the World Health organization said before the air strikes.

On Thursday, both the United States and Russia said they could not support a UN Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in Libya at this time.

Russia objects to the British-drafted resolution blaming Haftar for the latest flare-up in violence when his LNA advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli earlier this month, diplomats said.

The United States did not give a reason for its decision not to support the draft resolution, which would also call on countries with influence over the warring parties to ensure compliance and for unconditional humanitarian aid access in Libya.