Norwegian Refugee Council staff released in Yemen

Aden (AFP) - Seven people detained in a rebel-held part of Yemen for using recycled boxes originating in Saudi Arabia to distribute aid have been released, the Norwegian Refugee Council said on Thursday.

"We are greatly relieved by the release of our staff members and the driver," said Mutasim Hamdan, the organisation's Yemen country director.

"They are in good condition, and we are pleased that they are now reunited with their families," Hamdan said in a statement.

Six staff and a contracted driver, all Yemeni citizens, were detained earlier this week by authorities in the rebel-controlled Red Sea coastal district of Hodeida.

Local sources told AFP the employees were accused of having accepted and distributed aid from a Saudi-led coalition, which has been fighting the rebels since March 2015.

The Norwegian Refugee Council, an independent aid group based in Oslo, said it did not receive funding from Saudi Arabia for its relief operations in Yemen.

It had, however, been using recycled boxes to distribute hygiene kits in Yemen.

The group said when staff had opened the boxes to distribute the aid, the inside read "The campaign of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for emergency response," a reference to the Saudi king.

The boxes were dated January 2015 and had originally been used for food, according to the NRC.

The Saudi-led coalition has carried out a deadly bombing campaign against rebel-held areas and imposed a crippling air and sea blockade, so any suggestion of cooperation with the kingdom is anathema for the rebels.

More than 7,400 people have been killed since the coalition's intervention began, including around 1,400 children, according to World Health Organization figures.

UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen Jamie McGoldrick has put the death toll at closer to 10,000.

McGoldrick has also warned that seven million Yemenis are close to starvation.