U.S. urges Yemen’s Houthis to release embassy, U.N. staff

by Jacob Fuller


Yemen’s Houthi movement continues to hold 12 current and former employees of the United States and United Nations, a U.S. official said on Thursday, calling on the group to release them in “a demonstration of good faith”.

U.S. officials said last November that the Houthis had detained several Yemeni staff at the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Sanaa, without disclosing how many. UNESCO and U.N. Human Rights have said two staff members are being held.

With today’s announcement that a Russian court has sentenced American basketball star Brittney Griner to 9 years in prison for drug possession, President Joe Biden’s lack of definitive action on the part of Americans detained abroad is becoming a concerning and increasingly public trend.

“We condemn the Houthi detention of 12 of our current and former U.S. and U.N. staff. They’re still being held incommunicado,” U.S. envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking told reporters.

“This detention…sends an extremely negative signal. We want to see a demonstration of good faith by the Houthis in releasing these individuals unconditionally.”

He did not specify how many of the 12 were embassy staff.

The U.S. mission in Sanaa has been closed since 2015 after the Houthis ousted Yemen’s internationally recognized government from the capital in late 2014, prompting a Saudi Arabian-led military coalition to intervene months later.

The movement, the de facto authority in north Yemen, has criticized Washington for “abandoning” local staff but has not commented on the detentions.

Yemen’s warring sides on Tuesday renewed a two-month truce sponsored by the U.N. that first took hold in April. The organization is pushing for an extended and expanded deal.

“We’re going to need compromise from all sides to make progress, which includes initial Houthi action to open the main roads to Taiz,” Lenderking said, referring to Yemen’s third largest city, which is effectively under Houthi siege.

The group accuses the coalition of not delivering on the agreed number of fuel ships into Houthi-held Hodeidah port and selecting commercial flights from Sanaa under the truce. The Saudi-back government blames the Houthis for not opening main roads in Taiz and accuses them of not sharing port tax revenues.

Lenderking said flights from Sanaa to Jordan “are working very well” and that talks would continue with Egypt, which has not allowed more than one flight to Cairo.

Sources at Cairo airport have said Egypt needed more security checks for the flights.

Copyright 2022 Thomson/Reuters