UN confirms 13 staff detained by Houthis in Yemen

Houthi fighters riding a vehicle on patrol in Sana'a, Yemen. File photo
The Houthis control Yemen's capital, Sana'a, and the country's north-west [EPA]

The UN has said the Houthi movement in Yemen has detained two more of its employees, bringing the total number of personnel seized by the group in the past week to 13.

The employees were taken in various parts of the conflict-torn country, in what appears to be a co-ordinated crackdown.

UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said last week the world body was pursuing all available channels to secure their safe and unconditional release as rapidly as possible.

The armed group sees itself as part of an Iranian-led "axis of resistance" against Israel, the US and the wider West, and has declared its support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The Houthis have been targeting commercial shipping in the Red Sea, triggering retaliatory air strikes by the US and its allies.

Last week, the UN said the Houthis detained 11 of its personnel. UN spokesman Farhan Haq told the BBC on Wednesday two more employees had been detained since then, although he could not specify exactly when.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said one of its staff members was among those detained. WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on X he was “deeply worried” about the situation.

“We are working closely with our UN counterparts to ensure their safety,” he said. “We urge an immediate and unconditional release. Humanitarian workers must never be a target.”

Several employees of other international organisations were also detained, reports quoting officials from Yemen's internationally recognised government said.

Phones and computers were seized during the raids on the workers' homes and offices, which come after months of Houthi attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea.

The Mayyun Organisation for Human Rights said Houthi intelligence officers targeted 18 aid workers from several groups in Amran, Hudaydah, Saada and Sana'a at the same time on 6 June.

Officials told Reuters news agency that multiple members of the US-backed National Democratic Institute (NDI) were targeted.

The detentions demonstrate the risks facing aid workers in a country where a decade-long civil war has reportedly killed more than 150,000 people and triggered one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

They come as the Houthis face increasing economic difficulties and air strikes carried out by a US-led coalition.

The armed group controls the capital of Yemen - Sana'a - and the country's north-west, running a de facto government which collects taxes and prints money.

The internationally recognised government of Yemen is based in the southern port of Aden.