Yemen rebels admit tear gas behind fire at migrant detention

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Saturday broke their silence on the cause of a fire that tore through a detention center for migrants earlier this month, killing at least 45 people, mostly Ethiopian migrants.

The rebels acknowledged that guards fired three tear gas canisters into a crowded hangar in the capital, Sanaa, trying to end a protest by the migrants.

A statement by the rebel-run Interior Minister said at least 11 men from the security forces were detained over the incident, along with a number of senior officials who would be tried before court.

The migrant community in Sanaa has called for an international probe into the tragedy, a demand backed by international rights groups.

Some 900 migrants, most of them from Ethiopia, had been detained at the facility — including more than 350 inside the hangar. The site was run by the Passports and Naturalization Authority.

At least 45 people were killed in the March 7, the rebels said, including one who died of his wounds on Friday. More than 200 others were wounded.

The migrants had been protesting and went on hunger strike against alleged abuses and ill-treatment at the detention facility, according to survivors and local rights campaigners.

The rebels Saturday claimed that the migrants were protesting to pressure the International Organization for Migration to transfer them.

Despite its six-year-old civil war, Yemen remains a transit point for tens of thousands of African migrants desperate to find jobs as housekeepers, servants and construction workers in Saudi Arabia.

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