U.S. urges Yemen's Houthis to release embassy, U.N. staff

·2 min read
U.S. special envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking, attends an interview with Reuters in Amman

DUBAI (Reuters) - Yemen's Houthi movement continues to hold 12 current and former employees of the United States and United Nations, a U.S. official said on Thursday, calling on the group to release them in "a demonstration of good faith".

The United States said in November that the Houthis had detained several Yemeni staff at the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Sanaa, without disclosing how many. UNESCO and U.N. Human Rights have said two staff members are being held.

"We condemn the Houthi detention of 12 of our current and former U.S. and U.N. staff. They're still being held incommunicado," U.S. envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking told reporters.

"This detention...sends an extremely negative signal. We want to see a demonstration of good faith by the Houthis in releasing these individuals unconditionally."

He did not specify how many of the 12 were embassy staff.

The U.S. mission in Sanaa has been closed since 2015 after the Houthis ousted Yemen's internationally recognised government from the capital in late 2014, prompting a Saudi Arabian-led military coalition to intervene months later.

The movement, the de facto authority in north Yemen, has criticised Washington for "abandoning" local staff but has not commented on the detentions.

Yemen's warring sides on Tuesday renewed a two-month truce sponsored by the U.N. that first took hold in April. The organisation is pushing for an extended and expanded deal.

"We're going to need compromise from all sides to make progress, which includes initial Houthi action to open the main roads to Taiz," Lenderking said, referring to Yemen's third largest city, which is effectively under Houthi siege.

The group accuses the coalition of not delivering on the agreed number of fuel ships into Houthi-held Hodeidah port and select commercial flights from Sanaa under the truce. The Saudi-back government blames the Houthis for not opening main roads in Taiz and accuses them of not sharing port tax revenues.

Lenderking said flights from Sanaa to Jordan "are working very well" and that talks would continue with Egypt, which has not allowed more than one flight to Cairo.

Sources at Cairo airport have said Egypt needed more security checks for the flights.

(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Mike Harrison)

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