Arab coalition hands over 52 child prisoners to Yemen

They were arrested during military operations on the border while the children, carrying weapons, were involved in mine-laying operations

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The Saudi-led Arab Coalition Command said on Tuesday that it has handed over 52 children to the legitimate government in Yemen after they were caught fighting with the Houthi militias along the border with Saudi Arabia . The children were captured while planting land mines, the coalition said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

The process of repatriation was coordinated with international organizations including the Red Cross and UNICEF, the statement said. They were arrested during military operations on the border while the children, carrying weapons, were involved in mine-laying operations, the command said.

“Appropriate actions have been taken by transferring them to shelters, according to their legal age, and the application of preventive measures to protect children and provide them with the appropriate conditions. The involvement of children in the bloody events and minefields is considered as an inhuman act and is contrary to all international norms and laws,” the statement added.

On his part, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdel-Malek Al-Mekhlafi, who heads the legitimate government’s peace negotiating team, said the children were aged between 8 and 17 years and their release showed the government and its Saudi-led Coalition ally reject the Houthi crime of using children in war.

“They (child prisoners) will be freed in addition to those who had been freed in Marib,” Mekhlafi said on his Twitter account.

In a related development, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Dr. Abdullatif Al-Zayani welcomed the UN decision to remove the Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting in Yemen from a blacklist of child rights violators.

In a statement to SPA, Al-Zayani said that the GCC states appreciate the initiative of the UN Secretariat to correct this administrative error confirming the credibility of the UN and its responsibility in maintaining international peace and security. “The Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, is keen on the safety of Yemeni civilians including children, working on restoration of the legitimacy in Yemen and fighting against terrorism.”

Nabil Al-Arabi, secretary general of the Arab League, also lauded the UN decision. In a statement, Al-Arabi stressed that the UN report contained false and inaccurate information. “The report overlooked the role played by the Arab coalition countries in restoring the legitimacy of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his government as well as in providing humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people,” he said.

The United Nations on Monday removed the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen from a blacklist of child rights violators after Riyadh angrily protested the decision. Saudi Arabia had demanded that a UN report be corrected after it concluded that the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of the 785 children killed in Yemen last year.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon agreed to a Saudi proposal to review the facts and cases cited in the report jointly with the coalition, his spokesman Stephan Dujarric said. “Pending the conclusions of the joint review, the secretary-general removes the listing of the coalition in the report’s annex,” he added.

Al-Mouallimi met with UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson at UN headquarters to discuss the listing. Mouallimi had warned that adding the coalition to the UN blacklist would be “counterproductive for the purposes of the peace negotiations on Yemen.” The ambassador acknowledged that “there were some collateral damages from time to time” but that the coalition had played a “positive role” in restoring Yemen’s legitimate government and providing humanitarian aid.

This article was first published by the Saudi Gazette on June 8, 2016.

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