UN demands that Yemen’s Houthi rebels free detained staffers

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations on Wednesday demanded the release of two U.N. staffers detained earlier this month by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

U.N. officials were given assurances by senior Houthi officials last week that the two men, both Yemenis, would be released, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, adding that they have not been freed.

“U.N. staff should not be arbitrarily detained,” Dujarric told reporters.

He said the U.N. staffers work for the U.N. human rights office and UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and were detained on Nov. 5 and Nov. 7.

Dujarric said U.N. officials have not been able to contact the men.

The call for the employees’ release comes after the United States expressed similar concerns over reports that staff who worked at its now-closed embassy in the capital of Sanaa had also been held by the Houthis.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Nov. 9 that diplomatic efforts had succeeded in securing the release of most of the detained employees, but that some remained in custody. He said then that work was continuing to free the others.

There was no immediate comment from the Houthi rebels.

Yemen has been convulsed by civil war since 2014, when the Iran-backed Houthi rebels took control of the capital of Sanaa and much of the northern part of the country, forcing the internationally recognized government to flee to the south, then to Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015, backed by the United States, to try restore President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power.

Despite a relentless air campaign and ground fighting, the war has deteriorated largely into a stalemate and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The U.S. has since suspended its direct involvement in the conflict.

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