DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Nations faces “no pressure” from a Saudi-led coalition over a draft U.N. report on child deaths in Yemen, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday, amid rising concern over civilian casualties from the alliance’s air raids.
Speaking to Reuters on a visit to Kuwait, Guterres added that in any case no pressure could sway his eventual decision whether or not to return the Saudi-led coalition to a child rights blacklist annexed to the report.
It will be up to Guterres to make that determination. The coalition was briefly added last year and then removed by then-U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon pending a review.
At the time, Ban accused Saudi Arabia of exerting “unacceptable” undue pressure after sources told Reuters that Riyadh threatened to cut its funding of U.N. programs. Saudi Arabia denied threatening Ban.
Asked whether he faced any pressure from Saudi Arabia or the coalition it leads in Yemen’s civil war, Guterres replied: “We are not facing any pressure and we consider that no pressure would lead to anything, but we are not having any pressure.”
“There is a technical work being conducted, and in the end, that will be presented to me and I will take the decision according to what I will feel is the right thing to do.”
The draft report on children and armed conflict, which still has to be approved by Guterres and is subject to change, blamed the Saudi-led coalition for more than 680 child casualties and three-quarters of the attacks on schools and hospitals in Yemen.
The coalition had been named on the blacklist last year after an earlier U.N. report blamed it for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen in 2015.
Saudi Arabia’s U.N. mission said on Aug. 16 there was no justification for putting the coalition on the list. It declined to comment on the findings in the draft report for 2016.
On Friday a coalition raid on Sanaa killed at least 12 people, including six children, an incident the coalition blamed on an unspecified technical error. The International Committee of the Red Cross called the deaths outrageous. [nL8N1LC0GE]
Guterres, speaking after talks with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, added the world body was trying to create the conditions for Hodeidah port and Sanaa airport to be used for deliveries of humanitarian relief.
Rights groups have accused the coalition of denying or excessively delaying entry to vessels carrying aid to Hodeidah and have urged the coalition to allow civilian traffic to land at the airport in Yemen’s capital Sanaa.
Guterres said both places needed to be operate fully, saying Yemeni people were “suffering in such a terrible way.”
Yemen’s war, which has killed more than 10,000 people, pits the internationally recognized government, backed by Saudi Arabia and its allies, against the Houthi movement and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Guterres, describing major aid donor Kuwait as an extremely reliable partner for peace, expressed support for Kuwaiti mediation in a dispute between Qatar and four Arab states.
Saudi Arabia and three allies imposed sanctions on Qatar accusing it of backing terrorism - charges Doha denies.
Editing by William Maclean and David Evans