United Nations aid flight carrying journalists barred from Yemen

Members of a security force loyal to the Houthi rebels take part in a military parade at the Tahrir Square in downtown Sanaa, Yemen on July 19, 2017.
Members of a security force loyal to the Houthi rebels take part in a military parade at the Tahrir Square in downtown Sanaa, Yemen on July 19, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

ADEN (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE) - A Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has barred a United Nations aid flight from heading to the country's rebel-held capital with journalists on board, the UN and Yemen's government said Wednesday (July 19).

"The coalition suspended the UN flight leaving Djibouti for Sanaa on Tuesday (July 18) as there were three BBC journalists on board," Saleh Humeidi, a top official with Yemen's information ministry said.

Saudi Arabia leads a pro-government military coalition which is fighting Iran-backed Huthi rebels for control of the impoverished country.

The conflict has killed more than 8,000 people and displaced three million since the coalition intervened in 2015.

The coalition has imposed an air embargo on areas controlled by Huthi rebels and their allies, former troops loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh - including the capital Sanaa.

International organisations require clearance to deliver aid to the country, which the UN says is the world's biggest humanitarian crisis.

The UN on Wednesday confirmed that the flight had been cancelled despite all those on board having the required visas.

"We confirm that the coalition cancelled yesterday (Tuesday) the Djibouti-Sanaa UN flight because of a BBC team on the manifest, asking for the flight to be rescheduled without the journalists," said Ahmed Ben Lassoued, Yemen spokesman for the UN's humanitarian coordination office, UNOCHA.

Ben Lassoued said the journalists had secured visas from both sides of Yemen's conflict - government and rebel authorities - and shared their itinerary with the Saudi-led coalition.

The information ministry of Yemen's internationally recognised government, based in second city Aden, said it "regrets the UN attempt" to put journalists on the flight.

Authorities "feared for the safety of the journalists", it said.

The BBC did not immediately comment.

Yemen's conflict has pushed seven million people to the brink of famine, according to the UN.

The country has also been hit by a deadly cholera outbreak that has claimed more than 1,740 lives since late April.