UN warns against military campaign on Yemen's Hodeidah port

Huang Panyue

SANAA, April 5 (Xinhua) -- The Unites Nations on Wednesday called on Yemeni warring parties to keep Red Sea port of Hodeidah safe, warning that any military campaign in its vicinity, from the ground or air, would have devastating civilian consequences.

"The port is located in a densely populated urban center where thousands of people live," the Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen said in a statement.

"The continued military escalation in Yemen, specifically the militarization of large regions on its Western Coast and the associated increase of humanitarian access obstacles and population movement restrictions are of grave concern to the humanitarian community," it said, warning that it would result in more displacement, more institutional collapse, and more suffering.

"Hodeidah Port is the major lifeline for imports into Yemen. The country has historically been 80 to 90 percent dependent on imported food, medicines and fuel, all vital for Yemen's survival today. Close to 80 percent of imported goods flowed through Hodeidah Port. Following airstrikes in August 2015, it now operates at reduced capacity," said the UN agency.

This is the second warning message by UN humanitarian agencies in a week following reports that the Saudi-backed Yemeni government is preparing to advance into the port.

The Yemeni government has accused Houthi movement of smuggling weapons through the port, an accusation which Houthis denied.

Last week, UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, warned against any war escalation in the port and strongly condemned the destruction of five cranes in Hodeidah port that he said has forced dozens of vessels to line up offshore.

McGoldrick's remarks signal a potential military escalation soon between Saudi-led military coalition backing the Yemeni exiled government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and their foe of Iranian-allied Shiite Houthi fighters backed by forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

UN humanitarian agencies are warning of deadly famine looming on the Arab country, where nearly 25 million Yemenis have been suffering from bloody civilian war since two years ago.

The UN has warned that at least 12 million Yemenis, roughly half the population, face the threat of famine and conditions are worsening.

In March 2015, the oil-rich Saudi Arabia led a mostly Arab military coalition to fight the dominant Houthi fighters, who seized most of northern Yemen including the capital Sanaa and Red Sea port city of Hodeidah.

The coalition announced its goal to restore power to the expelled but internationally recognized government of President Hadi.

Houthis ousted Hadi and seized control of northern Yemen in September 2014.

Two years on, the ground war and coalition airstrikes have killed more than 10,000 people, half of them civilians, and displaced over two millions, according to humanitarian agencies.

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