Kidnapped Yemeni Red Crescent workers freed – ICRC

Source: Reuters

LONDON, Aug 17 (Reuters) – Fifteen Yemeni Red Crescent workers kidnapped last week have been released, the international Red Cross said on Monday. Followers of Shi’ite rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi took the Red Crescent doctors, nurses, officials and administrators from a refugee camp on Thursday, the governor of Saada province said last week. “They were only held for a few hours, the main thing that happened was that an ambulance was taken from them,” said a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva. They were unhurt. Kidnappings have been common in Yemen, with the hostages usually freed unharmed. But in June, nine foreigners were kidnapped and three were later found dead. The rebels deny involvement. Officials said the northern rebels had displaced around 17,000 families from their homes in the mountainous northern province of Saada in fighting last week. Conflict there has simmered for years but has flared up again, prompting the ICRC in the Yemeni capital Sanaa to express concern for civilians fleeing the latest fighting. “The ICRC is alarmed about the intensification of armed confrontations in the north of Yemen that has taken place over the past two weeks,” it said. “Thousands of people fled their homes to take temporary refuge in Saada and Amran governorates. The ICRC is worried about the safety of internally displaced people, particularly those sheltered in camps in Saada located near the fighting.” Officials say the rebels want to restore a form of clerical rule prevalent in Yemen until the 1960s. The rebels say they are defending their villages against government oppression. The ICRC also appealed in its statement for its own staff to be respected. “According to international humanitarian law, the Red Crescent emblem must be respected at all times, and Red Crescent staff, vehicles and installations must be spared.” A total of 45 ICRC staff, including five international staff, are currently in Saada city working closely with the Yemen Red Crescent Society. Government sources said on Monday that Yemeni security forces had killed a Shi’ite rebel leader in renewed clashes in the north of the mainly Sunni Muslim Arab country, in which dozens of troops and rebels also died. In July 2008, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah said four years of intermittent fighting against the rebels had ended and dialogue should replace combat. Despite attempts to start talks, sporadic fighting continued and intensified in recent weeks. (For more news on humanitarian issues, please visit http://www.alertnet.org) (richard.meares@thomsonreuters.com; Reuters Messaging: richard.meares.reuters.com@reuters.net)

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