Houthis insist embassy closures ‘unjustified’

The United States, Britain and France cited security fears as they announced the shutting of their embassies on Wednesday

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A Shiite militia that has taken control in Yemen said Thursday that closures of Western diplomatic missions were “unjustified” and promised to return U.S. embassy vehicles it had seized.

The United States, Britain and France cited security fears as they announced the shutting of their embassies on Wednesday, days after the militia ousted parliament in its latest move to consolidate power.

But Hussein al-Ezzi, described as the Houthi militia’s head of foreign relations, said the closures were designed to put “pressure” on the Yemeni people.

“The decisions of some Western countries to close their embassies in Sanaa are absolutely unjustified,” he was quoted as saying by the official Saba news agency, which is under Houthi control.

Despite their origins as a Shiite rebel group based in Yemen’s north, the Houthis now claim to represent a broad opposition movement that aims to fight corruption.

Ezzi said the countries that closed their embassies “will quickly realize that it is in their interests to deal positively with the will of the Yemeni people, which they must respect.”

U.S. embassy staff destroyed documents and weapons and abandoned vehicles at the airport as they made a hasty exit from Yemen.

The militia seized three diplomatic cars and more than 25 vehicles used by Marines in charge of security at the mission.

Ezzi confirmed that vehicles had been seized, without saying exactly how many, and insisted they were taken for safekeeping.

“It was to safeguard and protect (the vehicles) because certain drivers and local (embassy) staff wanted to appropriate them,” he said.

“Airport authorities in Sanaa are ready to hand over the vehicles to a trustworthy third party, like the United Nations office.”

The Houthis seized control of Sanaa in September and have since been tightening their grip on the capital and expanding their territory.

They dissolved parliament and declared a “presidential council” last week after the Western-backed president, Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, tendered his resignation saying he could no longer govern.

The United Nations has called for Hadi to be restored to power and brokered talks this week aimed at bringing the country out of crisis.

U.N. envoy Jamal Benomar was to brief the Security Council later on Thursday.

The crisis has raised fears of a collapse of authority in Yemen, a key U.S. ally that has allowed Washington to carry out a longstanding drone war against the country’s powerful Al-Qaeda branch.

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