Red Cross pulls 71 foreign staff out of Yemen amid insecurity, threats

GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday it had pulled 71 international staff out of Yemen because of security incidents and threats, moving them to Djibouti.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

The aid agency called on all the warring sides in Yemen’s three-year conflict to provide security guarantees so it can keep running its surgical, water and food assistance programs, which it said had been crippled by the partial evacuation.

Some 450 ICRC employees remain in Yemen, including dozens of expatriate staff, spokeswoman Marie-Claire Feghali said.

“Our current activities have been blocked, threatened and directly targeted in recent weeks, and we see a vigorous attempt to instrumentalize our organization as a pawn in the conflict,” the ICRC said in a statement.

An ICRC employee, a Lebanese national, was killed on April 21 by an unknown gunmen who opened fire on his car in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz as he was on his way to visit a prison, it said at the time.

“While the Yemen delegation has received numerous threats in the past, we cannot now accept additional risk less than two months after a gunman killed a staff member. The security of our staff, who are being intimidated by parties to the conflict, is a non-negotiable prerequisite for our presence and work in Yemen and an absolute priority,” the statement said.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Sunni Muslim allies entered the war in 2015 to try to drive back the Houthis, an Iran-allied Shi’ite movement that forced a Saudi-backed government into exile in 2014.

The United Nations said there were no plans to evacuate staff. “We can confirm that UN international and national staff remain in place in Yemen, including in all five active field hubs (Aden, Hodeidah, Ibb, Sa’ada and Sana’a),” said Jens Laerke of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Unidentified forces attacked a U.N. aid vessel off the Houthi-held main port of Hodeidah at the weekend, port authorities have said.

As forces of the Saudi-led military coalition close in on Hodeidah, aid agencies fear a major battle will shut down a vital lifeline for millions of hungry civilians.

In a statement, the Western-backed coalition expressed concern over the withdrawal and held the Houthi movement accountable for any deterioration in security and humanitarian work in their areas, state news agency SPA reported early on Friday.

“The Coalition has and will always uphold the highest standards to protect civilians, and provide necessary protection for UN affiliated organizations as well as INGOs working in Humanitarian aid and Relief tracks,” coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said.

He added that the coalition is working with its INGO partners to improve conditions of safety, and is fully prepared to work with the ICRC to ensure the continuation of their work.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Additional Reporting by Sarah Dadouch; editing by Larry King