Saudi-led coalition rejects UN blacklisting over Yemen

Yemeni children stand amid rubbish at a slum in the capital Sanaa, on March 12, 2016.
Yemeni children stand amid rubbish at a slum in the capital Sanaa, on March 12, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

RIYADH (AFP) - The Saudi-led coalition fighting Shi'ite rebels in Yemen rejected on Sunday (June 5) a UN report that placed it on an annual blacklist over the deaths of hundreds of children in air strikes.

"The report is imbalanced and does not rely on credible statistics, nor does it serve the Yemeni people," coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Assiri told the official Saudi Press Agency.

"It misleads the public with incorrect numbers and mostly relies on information from sources associated with the Huthi militia and the deposed (former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah) Saleh," he said.

The report, released on Thursday by the office of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, said 785 children had been killed and 1,168 injured in Yemen last year, blaming the Saudi-led coalition for 60 per cent of the toll.

It blacklisted both the coalition and rebel forces for a "very large number of violations" including "attacks on schools and hospitals".

Saudi Arabia launched the intervention in Yemen in March last year in support of the internationally recognised government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi against Huthi rebels accused of having links with Iran and army units loyal to Saleh, who was forced out of office in 2012 under a Gulf-sponsored deal.

The war has left some 6,400 people dead, according to the UN.

Mr Assiri said the coalition was in Yemen to "protect the Yemeni people, including children, from the actions of the Huthi militia."

He cited a US$30 million (S$40.7 million) Saudi aid programme for Yemen launched in cooperation with the UN children's fund (Unicef).

In separate comments to the Saudi daily newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, he said Mr Ban's report would not help peace talks underway in Kuwait, and would "complicate the mission" of the UN's envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

Human rights groups have repeatedly raised concerns about Saudi air strikes on urban areas in Yemen and accused the coalition of deliberately targeting civilians with cluster bombs, which would constitute a war crime.

In late May, US magazine Foreign Policy reported that the White House had frozen shipments of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia over concerns that its Gulf ally was using the weapons in areas where civilians were present.