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Over 100,000 people displaced by Yemen fighting: U.N.
Fri Aug 21, 2009 5:53pm EDT
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By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - More than 100,000 people in Yemen, many of them children, have fled their homes during a recent surge in fighting between the government and Shi'ite Muslim rebels, a U.N. agency said on Friday.
The children's agency UNICEF and other U.N. aid bodies expressed serious concern about what they called a deteriorating situation in the north of the country and described conditions as critical in some areas.
The refugee agency UNHCR said in Geneva it was appealing for a ceasefire to allow civilians to escape the fighting and enable aid workers to resume interrupted deliveries of humanitarian goods to the conflict zone.
The conflict with the Houthi rebels in mostly Sunni Muslim Yemen has flared intermittently since 2004. Authorities accuse the rebels of trying to expand their influence, but the insurgents say they are defending their villages against government oppression.
Earlier this month, Yemeni forces began an offensive using air strikes, tanks and artillery in what officials say is an attempt to crush the revolt.
On Friday, President Ali Abdullah Saleh reiterated ceasefire conditions to the rebels to try to end the fighting, which has killed dozens of people. "We offer those elements another chance to resort to peace and return to the righteous path," he said in a Ramadan speech on state television.
The rebels have so far rejected the six conditions, which include a rebel withdrawal, removal of rebel checkpoints and the clarification of the fate of nine kidnapped foreigners.
"It is estimated that over 100,000 persons have been displaced by the latest round of fighting, (and) many of them are children," said Aboudou Karimou Adjibade, UNICEF representative in Yemen. "It is crucial that we gain immediate access to them to provide them with the assistance they need."
APPEAL FOR AID
The agency's spokeswoman in Geneva, Veronique Taveau, told reporters the United Nations would launch a so-called flash -- or one-off -- appeal for aid next week.
Previous clashes between government troops and rebels had already affected about 120,000 people, U.N. officials said.
UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic quoted refugees as saying the situation was critical in the rebel stronghold of Saada -- where fighting had displaced some 35,000 people in the last two weeks -- in areas further north and in El Sufyan in a neighboring district.
He said roads to the Saada governorate were blocked and there was no access to the conflict area by air. Many people seeking to flee were paying smugglers to get out, UNHCR said.
The Rome-based U.N. World Food Program said that on Friday it began distributing a one-month ration of cereals, pulses, vegetable oil, salt and sugar to 10,000 displaced people. It airlifted 40 metric tons of high-energy biscuits from Dubai last week and planned another airlift in the next few days.
A joint U.N. team that has been visiting an area southwest of Saada since last week said refugees needed shelter, clean water and sanitation facilities. Yemeni authorities have said they plan to open a refugee camp there, UNHCR said. Continued...
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