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Watchdog says Yemen rebel land mines killed, maimed hundreds


An international rights group on Thursday decried the use of land mines by Yemen's Shiite rebels in the impoverished Arab country at war, saying they have killed and maimed hundreds of civilians and prevented many of the displaced from returning to their homes.

In a new report, Human Rights Watch said the rebels known as Houthis, who are allied with the forces of the country's former president, have used land-mines in at least six provinces since March 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition launched its military campaign against them.

Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch, said the Houthis and forces of Yemen's ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh "have been flouting the land mine ban at the expense of Yemeni civilians."

He added that Yemen had banned land mines two decades ago.

The Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab Sunni countries has waged a campaign to dislodge the Houthis, who seized Yemen's capital and some other areas in 2014 and forced the internationally-recognized government to flee the country.

Kristine Beckerle, an HRW researcher, said the rights group had found two types of anti-personnel mines previously unreported in Yemen, though she said not only the Houthis and Saleh's forces, but also the Saudi-led coalition had used banned weapons.

"It's time to actually hold parties accountable, investigate and publicly report on what's going on," she said.

Beckerle spoke at a joint press conference on Yemen with Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N. human rights coordinator for the war-torn country. The conference was held in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

HRW also released a photo of one of a dozen claymore-type mines, which release steel balls to a distance of about 100 meters (yards) labeled in Chinese and found in areas that were held by Houthi forces.

The New York-based group cited the Landmine Monitor Initiative by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines as saying that at least 988 people were either killed or wounded by land mines in Yemen since 2015.

The war in Yemen has killed about 10,000 civilians and displaced nearly 3 million people. The Saudi-led coalition, which is backed by the United States, has also been facing accusations of war crimes after a series of bombardments of civilians — including hits on busy markets and also hospitals, schools, and residential areas.

Speaking in Amman, McGoldrick warned that the Saudi-led coalition could soon attack Yemen's port of Hodeida on the Red Sea, a vital lifeline for most of the country's population, which depends on the port for food and medicine. Such an attack would displace up to 500,000 people and require humanitarian aid of between $35 million and $85 million, he added.

"We're on the knife's edge," McGoldrick said.

Describing one of the more recent land mine incidents, the HRW report recounted how a demining team lost one of its members during a clearance operation in the Nihm Mountains outside of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in January. The team member stepped on a land mine and was killed; a second lost his legs the next day.

The report also cited an incident in May last year in which a young man died and his mother was wounded when they stepped on land mines near their home. The displaced family was returning home to the Nihm Mountains when the incident happened.

Days later, one of the family's neighbors lost his legs in another land mine explosion that also killed several sheep, HRW said.

___

Associated Press Writer Sam McNeil in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.


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