Houthis ‘using dead child soldiers for propaganda’ in Yemen: Saudi envoy

Houthis ‘using dead child soldiers for propaganda’ in Yemen: Saudi envoy
Houthi followers sit under a picture of a man holding a child supposedly killed by a recent Arab coalition air strike at the site of a demonstration in Sanaa, Yemen, on May 20, 2017. (REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)
Updated 25 May 2017

Houthis ‘using dead child soldiers for propaganda’ in Yemen: Saudi envoy

Houthis ‘using dead child soldiers for propaganda’ in Yemen: Saudi envoy

LONDON: Militias of deposed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthi group in Yemen are using dead child soldiers for propaganda targeted against the Saudi-led Arab coalition, a senior diplomat said on Wednesday.
Mohammed Al-Jaber, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen, said that the number of child soldiers recruited by the Houthis is on the rise.
When these children are killed, the militia uses their deaths for political purposes, he said.
“The Houthis — when these kids are killed on the battlefield — they took these kids, and bring them to the UN organization and say, ‘oh, the coalition attacked the kids,’ ” Al-Jaber told Arab News.
“They use it for their propaganda.”
Houthi militias have for a long time been known to use child soldiers in Yemen. Amnesty International said in February that new evidence had emerged that the Houthis are actively recruiting boys as young as 15 to fight on the front lines of the conflict in violation of international law.
Al-Jaber said that figures from organizations such as UNICEF indicate that the problem is getting worse.
“The UNICEF representative told us that the Houthis recruit a lot of kids. And this number has increased from month to month, from year to year. And they fight on each front,” he said.
Al-Jaber said a political solution is still sought in Yemen, and said the Saudi side has communication channels with all the relevant groups.
“We are in contact with all Yemeni parties, including the Houthis and Saleh, to convince them to go to the table and discuss all their issues,” he said.
There had been hopes of a cease-fire in Yemen during Ramadan, but Al-Jaber said he had received no communication of this.
“It’s a Yemeni issue. It’s also between Houthi-Saleh groups, militia, and Yemeni government. (If) they decide to go to the cease-fire, the legitimate Yemeni government will ask the coalition to cease fire,” he said.
The ambassador was talking on the sidelines of a workshop in London entitled “The Way Forward for Yemen: Saudi Perspectives.”
Nadia Al-Saqqaf, the former minister of information in Yemen, was another of the speakers. She was in her ministerial position when the Houthis launched their coup in Yemen, after which she said the militia “literally stormed my office.”
Al-Saqqaf, now a researcher in the UK, said that there had been a crackdown on freedom of expression and that there was a “culture of fear” in some areas of Yemen.
“So many Yemenis are now resorting to social media, WhatsApp for example. And it has saved lives. But at the same time… it has become a tool of threatening,” she said.
“Freedom of expression, or even activism… are all extremely threatened, especially in the north, where the Houthis are raiding the institutions.”
She described WhatsApp messages from Houthis that she said had requested people to send information on others accused of perceived misdeeds, asking for their name, address, Facebook and Twitter identities.
“Houthis and the Saleh regime are targeting activists, and there are so many people in jail now, tortured,” she said.
Al-Saqqaf said that Yemen’s problems must be solved from within.
“It’s actually a Yemeni problem, and we have to deal with it (in) a Yemeni way,” she said. “The solution for Yemen is bottom-up — there’s no superman who’s going to come and solve the country, and help everybody.”
Peter Salisbury, senior research fellow for the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House — one of the organizers of the workshop — said the Yemen crisis was not easily solved.
“There isn’t one simple answer,” he said. “It’s a deeply deeply complex conflict, and that requires a complex solution.”