France weighing possible minesweeping operation at Yemen port: ministry

PARIS (Reuters) - France is studying the possibility of carrying out a minesweeping operation to provide access to the Yemeni port of Hodeidah once an Arab-led coalition has completed its military operations, France’s Defence Ministry said on Friday.

Arab coalition forces had fought their way to the outskirts of the airport in Yemen’s main port city on Friday, in the biggest battle of a three-year war pitting it against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

An official of the United Arab Emirates, part of the coalition, told Reuters on Thursday that France had agreed to provide minesweeping support for the operation and that UAE intelligence indicated that the Houthi rebels, who control the city, had mined the port. The official also said the United States had rejected a request for such help.

In a statement to Reuters, the French Defence Ministry suggested a final decision had not yet been made.

“An action to de-mine access to the port of Hodeidah after the end of military operations is currently under study. Its purpose would be to facilitate the safe transport of humanitarian aid to the population of the city,” it said.

“France has always emphasized that the port city of Hodeidah is one of Yemen’s key gateways to bring commercial and humanitarian goods to the civilian population,” it added.

The ministry stressed that France at this stage had no military operations in the Hodeidah region and was not part of the Saudi-led coalition.

France, along with the United States and Britain, backs the Arab coalition in the Yemen conflict and provides weapons to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Paris plans to host a gathering of countries and international organizations, co-presided with Riyadh, on June 27 to address the “urgent humanitarian situation” in Yemen.

“The news on the ground convinces us of the need for the international community to pay particular attention to the issue of humanitarian access,” the Defence Ministry said.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Michel Rose and Gareth Jones