'Alarming' escalation in Yemen fighting near Saudi: UNHCR

23rd November 2010, Comments 0 comments

The UN refugee agency on Tuesday warned of an "alarming escalation" in fighting in northern Yemen close to the border with Saudi Arabia despite a nine-month ceasefire.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said local aid agencies and eyewitnesses including displaced people reported that clashes between Shiite Huthi rebels and pro-government tribes erupted in remote northwestern Sa'ada province on November 13.

"At least 20 people have been killed reportedly and others wounded over the past 10 days in the worst violence in northern Yemen since the signing of the cease fire in February," UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said.

"This is an alarming escalation," Mahecic told journalists, "UNHCR adds its voice to that of the local mediation committee in calling for calm and protection of the civilian population."

UNHCR said staff from its office in the Saudi capital Riyadh were being dispatched to the area to assess the extent of civilian displacement following "heavy fighting" in the Monabih and Qatabir districts bordering Saudi Arabia.

Yemen launched an offensive against a Huthi uprising in August 2009 and the rebels later clashed with Saudi forces, forcing a truce in February.

More than 300,000 people were displaced in Yemen by that fighting but only 20,000 have returned to Sa'ada, while humanitarian access was limited to an area around Sa'ada City," the UNHCR said.

"We remain very concerned about the lack of access and humanitarian situation in other parts of the governorate," said Mahecic.

© 2010 AFP

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