UN leads calls for release of staffers detained by Houthis over alleged spy ring

The heads of six UN agencies and three international humanitarian organizations are issuing a joint appeal to Yemen’s Houthi rebels for the immediate release of 17 members of their staff who were recently detained along with many others also being held by the Iranian-backed group.

Their appeal is echoed by a statement from several dozen nations and the European Union ahead of a UN Security Council meeting on Yemen where UN special envoy Hans Grundberg said the Houthis were holding all those detained in the crackdown incommunicado.

The statement calls their detentions “unprecedented — not only in Yemen but globally.”

They asked the Houthis to confirm the exact whereabouts of those detained and for immediate access, citing international humanitarian law which requires all parties to armed conflict to respect and protect humanitarian personnel.

“The targeting of humanitarian, human rights, and development workers in Yemen must stop,” the joint statement says. “All those detained must be immediately released.”

The Houthis said Monday they had arrested members of an “American-Israeli spy network,” days after detaining the staffers from the UN and aid organizations.

Maj. Gen. Abdulhakim al-Khayewani, head of the Houthis’ intelligence agency, announced the arrests, saying the spy network had first operated out of the US Embassy in the capital Sanaa. After it was closed in 2015 following the Houthi takeover of Sanaa and northern Yemen, he said, they continued “their subversive agenda under the cover of international and UN organizations.”

Samantha Power, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, strongly condemns the abuse and detention of current and former USAID staff as well as UN and NGO employees and demanded their immediate release,

“These detentions are an affront both to diplomatic norms and to the dedication the individuals have shown to supporting the people of Yemen,” she says in a statement. “The Houthis’ attempts to spread disinformation regarding the roles of USAID, the US government, the UN, and other international organizations working to improve the lives of the Yemeni people through the use of forced and fraudulent `confessions’ is deplorable.”

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