UN ready to play role in Yemen’s Hodeidah port

In this file photo taken on January 27, 2018, a UNICEF cargo ship carrying food aid is seen docked at the Red Sea port of Hodeidah. (File/AFP)
Updated 23 November 2018

UN ready to play role in Yemen’s Hodeidah port

  • The UN is ready to play a supervisory role in managing the port of Hodeidah
  • Western countries are pressing for a cease-fire and renewed peace efforts to end the country’s three-year-old conflict

HODEIDAH/GENEVA: The United Nations is ready to help supervise Yemen’s Hodeidah port to protect the vital supply lifeline from “potential destruction,” the world body said on Friday, as its envoy to the war-damaged country met managers of the Houthi-held harbor.
Western countries are pressing for a cease-fire and renewed peace efforts to end the country’s three-year-old conflict amid international concern that half the population, or some 14 million people, could soon be on the brink of famine.
UN spokesman Rheal LeBlanc told reporters in Geneva that UN envoy Martin Griffiths had specific ideas about managing the port that he would present to the parties to the conflict.
“As he (Griffiths) has said many times, the UN stands ready to work with the parties on a negotiated agreement, to grant a supervisory role for the UN in managing the port, which would protect the port itself from potential destruction, and preserve the main humanitarian pipeline to the people of Yemen,” LeBlanc said.
Griffiths arrived earlier in the day in Hodeidah, the latest focus of the war between the Houthi group, which controls the city, and pro-government forces backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The port is an important supply line to the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa, located in mountains to the northeast of Hodeidah, as well as to much of the rest of the country.
Griffiths told the UN Security Council last week that Yemen’s parties had given “firm assurances” they were committed to attending peace talks he hopes to convene in Sweden in December.
LeBlanc said Griffiths wanted a stop to a recent escalation in fighting around Hodeidah in order to “create a conducive environment” for the Sweden consultations.
Griffiths visited Sanaa on Thursday to talk to Houthi leaders about their attendance in Sweden.
The Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to restore the internationally-recognized government that was ousted from Sanaa in 2014 by the Houthis.

Leader of banned charity leader seeks asylum from Turkey amid Macron-Erdogan row

Updated 19 min 26 sec ago

Leader of banned charity leader seeks asylum from Turkey amid Macron-Erdogan row

  • Sihamedi, the founder of the BarakaCity NGO, claimed that he no longer felt safe in France

ANKARA: The prospect of granting asylum to Idriss Sihamedi, the founder of a Muslim charity that has been shut down in France over his alleged ties to the “radical Islamist movement,” stirred debate about the potential repercussions amid the already escalating French-Turkish spat.

The Turkish interior ministry announced on Oct. 29 that Ankara will assess Sihamedi’s request for himself and his team after receiving his official application.

Sihamedi, the founder of the BarakaCity NGO, claimed that he no longer felt safe in France. His NGO was closed officially on Oct. 28 on the grounds that it “incites hate, has relations with the radical Islamist movement and justifies terrorist acts.”

He posted his asylum request on his official Twitter account in both French and Turkish, tagging Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He also alleged he had received death threats.

His post received a quick reply from the Turkish interior ministry’s migration management department: “Hello Sihamedi. If you and your colleagues were to personally apply to our institution with your surname, first name, identity information, petition for an asylum request and your passport number, your request will be assessed.”

However, experts think that proceeding with the asylum request of such radicals means playing with fire.

“I think Erdogan is continuing to play a dangerous game by courting relationships with radical figures and in some cases jihadists,” Colin Clarke, senior research fellow on terror-financing networks at the Soufan Center, told Arab News. “Turkey is already viewed as a hot spot for jihadists given its proximity to Iraq and Syria.”

Sihamedi is accused of inciting hatred, encouraging people to violent acts, maintaining relations within the radical Islamist movement, money laundering in the name of Salafi organisations and expressing support for Hitler and the Nazis. He is also blamed for organizing suicide attacks and supporting Daesh.

According to Clarke, if Turkey grants asylum to Sihamedi and his team, it may create trouble, both domestically but also with NATO allies.

“Moving forward with actions like this could easily backfire on Turkey and cause considerable blowback. I find these overt flirtations with radical Islamists counterproductive and short-sighted,” he said.

Sihamedi was deported from Turkey last year in May at France’s request and his passport was confiscated at Istanbul airport.

BarakaCity was founded in 2010 in Evry-Courcouronnes (Essonne). The Islamic humanitarian NGO has been closely monitored by French intelligence since 2014. Its buildings were raided several times in 2015 and 2017, and it was investigating for “terrorist financing” and “terrorist criminal association” for three years.

The NGO has said it wants to move its headquarters to another country. At a time when relations between Paris and Ankara are more strained than ever, the Turkish branch of the NGO is headed by a Franco-Turkish national known for his Salafi credentials.

“The French government dissolved BarakaCity also because in the past the NGO received money from Samy Amimour, a member of the Bataclan terrorist commando group in  2015, and from Larossi Abballa, who in 2016 killed a policeman and his wife in Magnanville,” said Matteo Pugliese, associate research fellow at Milan-based think tank ISPI.

“According to the French government, BarakaCity provides a sort of ideological justification for violent radicals, especially when it calls for the punishment of those who publish cartoons or criticize Islam. I think that we are talking about a grey zone, where non-violent extremism meets violent radicalization.”

Sihamedi was released under judicial supervision and is due to face trial in December.

French government also announced plans to dissolve other associations suspected of supporting extremist ideologies.

“If Turkey grants asylum to Sihamedi, France will use this to accuse the country of sheltering Islamists who radicalize people with online propaganda,” Pugliese said. “This is part of the verbal escalation between Macron and Erdogan and will be used by both for political internal goals.”