U.N. signals not responsible for controlling Yemen’s main airport


UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations signalled on Friday it was not responsible for controlling Yemen’s main airport, dismissing a call by a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition for the world body do so.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen on Thursday asked the United Nations to take control of the airport in the capital Sanaa, which is in territory controlled by the rival Houthi rebel movement, Saudi state news agency SPA reported.

Yemen has been torn apart by a civil war in which the internationally-recognised government, supported by the Saudi-led coalition, seeks to push back gains made by the Iran-allied Houthi rebels.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric called on the warring parties to allow humanitarian aid access including through the airport.

“(The airport) is not under U.N. control,” Dujarric told reporters. “The parties to the conflict have the responsibility to ensure the protection of civilians and their access to humanitarian relief, including through the use of airspace and airport.”

The Houthis control most of the north while the Saudi-led coalition controls the airspace. Any reopening would need an agreement between the two sides, which blame each other for Yemen’s humanitarian disaster – one of the world’s worst.

Hunger and disease have been unleashed by the two-year-old conflict, and the United Nations estimates 10,000 people have been killed.

Dujarric said he is unaware if the United Nations had received a formal request from the Saudi-led coalition for the world body to take control of the airport.

“We have been in contact with the government of Yemen and the Saudi-led coalition to advocate the reopening of Yemen’s airspace around the airport for humanitarian flights,” he said.

In March, the Saudi-led coalition proposed that the United Nations monitor Yemen’s strategic Hodeidah port after a deadly attack on a boatload of Somali refugees.

The United Nations said at the time that warring parties were responsible for the protection of civilians and infrastructure and not others.

U.N. investigators last month accused the Saudi-led military coalition of carrying out the attack on the Somali migrant boat. The coalition has denied striking the boat.

Reporting By Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Alistair Bell