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Security in Yemen deteriorating dramatically, UN envoy warns Security Council

The top United Nations official on Yemen briefed the Security Council today on the “very serious” situation inside the country as violent clashes continue between supporters and opponents of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, despite international efforts to promote a peaceful political transition.

“The security situation has deteriorated very dramatically,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Adviser on Yemen Jamal Benomar told reporters after his briefing, noting that five or six provinces were out of Government control, a large area in the north was controlled by Al-Houthi rebels, Al-Qaida militants had captured three cities and an important geographic area in the south, and Sana’a, the capital, was divided between rival forces.

“The Yemeni people have suffered throughout this crisis… so that a quick and peaceful and orderly transition can start as soon as possible,” he said, stressing that the fact that the Council met today “is an expression of their anxiety” as they discuss what action they want to take.

Yemen is one of a handful of countries across North Africa and the Middle East where large numbers of civilians have risen up this year to call for greater democracy and freedoms. But many people have died during clashes and protests and UN officials have repeatedly warned about the humanitarian and human rights situation.

Mr. Benomar stressed that his work as Special Adviser was focused on using the good offices of the Secretary-General to support existing regional and international efforts to resolve the crisis.

“Yemenis want to move with a quick transition. This is what all international efforts [and] regional efforts have been focusing on.”

At a news conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he is on an official visit, Mr. Ban was asked whether he thought Mr. Saleh would step down in the coming days, as he had promised on Saturday.

“While I am not in a position to judge what will happen, whether he will really keep his word, that we will have to watch,” he replied. “What is important at this time is that President Saleh should take immediately decisive political reforms so that people can live in a better world without fear of oppression and there must be full protection of human rights.”

For her part UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos called on the world to take steps to tackle the humanitarian crisis in the Arabian Peninsula country, warning that inaction could lead to a repetition of the dire situation afflicting Somalia.

“For far too long, the international community has failed to give enough attention to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” she said in a statement, citing the conflict, poverty, drought, soaring food prices and collapsing State services faced by millions of people in a daily struggle for survival.

These include 100,000 people displaced by recent fighting in the south, thousands of refugees from the Horn of Africa, and 300,000 displaced by previous conflict in the north. “Every night, a third of the Yemeni people go to bed hungry. In some parts of the country, one in three children are malnourished – among the highest malnutrition levels in the world,” she added.

Ms. Amos noted that hospitals and clinics are overcrowded or not working at all, access to safe water is becoming increasingly difficult, and tens of thousands of children are losing their education due to school closures.

“Making matters worse, insecurity has forced UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations to cut back their staff or leave,” she said. Yemen is the poorest country in the region, and has suffered chronic deprivation for years. If we don’t act now, the situation could become a catastrophe. In neighbouring Somalia, we have seen what happens if warnings go unheeded, and too little is done in time to stop a crisis. Let us not repeat the same mistake in Yemen.”

Meanwhile, the UN agency entrusted with protecting freedom of speech and the press today condemned the killing of two Yemeni journalists and called on the authorities to ensure the safety of media workers.

According to Reporters without Borders (RSF), Abdel Hakim Al-Nour, a cameraman and producer for Mas production company and media chief of the Hayel Saeed Anam Association, was killed during the bombing of Taiz on the night of 4 October, while television journalist Abdel Majid Al-Samawi was killed on 3 October in Sana’a, bringing to five the number of journalists killed in Yemen since the start of unrest in February.

“It is essential that the authorities in Yemen respect the civilian status of journalists and recognize their right to fulfil their professional responsibilities in conditions of acceptable safety,” UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Irina Bokova said in a statement.

“The people of Yemen must be able to enjoy a free press and the basic human right of freedom of expression, both of which are essential for the country to emerge stronger from the present crisis.”

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