September 12, 2018 / 5:15 PM / 7 days ago

France seeks release of citizen held by Yemeni Houthis

PARIS (Reuters) - France is in talks with Houthi forces in Yemen to secure the release of one its citizens held since June after his boat ran into difficulty near the country’s main port of Hodeidah, a French diplomatic source said on Wednesday.

Alain Goma, 54, has been in prison in the capital Sanaa, which is under Houthi control, after being transferred from the Red Sea port.

His detention is complicated politically for Paris.

France has been trying to play a role to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen by engaging with the Iran-aligned Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition fighting against the group.

However, France, like other Western countries, is friendly to countries fighting against the Houthis. Along with the United States and Britain, it sells weapons to the coalition leaders Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“Every effort is being made to get his release,” the source said. “France’s ambassador for Yemen Christian Testot is in contact with authorities responsible for his arrest so that he can be freed as quickly as possible.”

When asked whether Paris considered that he was being held hostage by the Houthis, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll avoided responding.

She said that the ministry was aware of Goma’s situation as well as two other compatriots held by the Houthis. Two Franco-Tunisian have been held by the Houthis since 2014.

Speaking to Le Figaro on Tuesday, Goma’s sister, Christine, said she had been able to speak to her brother twice since June and that he had told her he had been accused of being a spy and was beginning to break down.

“Do something, Mr President (Emmanuel Macron), so that my brother does not remain a forgotten hostage,” Christine Goma told the newspaper.

Testot traveled to Sanaa in the summer after Paris was forced to downgrade an international humanitarian conference on Yemen.

The Houthis control Yemen’s capital Sanaa and most of its populated areas, while the Arab states are fighting on behalf of an exiled government that has authority in the south.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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