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UN urges Yemen to investigate deadly raid

Over 80 refugees killed in raid this week

Published:

The United Nations top human rights official called on Yemen on Friday to investigate an air raid by its warplanes this week against a makeshift refugee camp in the north of the country that killed dozens of people.

Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged the government to avoid a repeat of the incident, underlining its obligation to protect civilians.

"This is a deeply disturbing development in a conflict that was already troubling in terms of its impact on civilians," said Pillay

"The government should launch a full-fledged investigation into what went wrong and take immediate measures to try to ensure we do not see a further avoidable tragedy of this nature," she said in a statement citing eyewitness reports.

A source from the camp and news reports on Thursday said over 80 refugees were killed in the raid on Wednesday on the camp at Wadi Sufyan, at the center of fighting between government forces and Shiite rebels.

The government should launch a full-fledged investigation into what went wrong and take immediate measures to try to ensure we do not see a further avoidable tragedy of this nature

Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights

War crime

Asked whether the air raid could constitute a war crime, Pillay's spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing: "It is too early to say, there are not enough details.

"To have a war crime, you have to have some form of intention -- and that's not clear from the situation as we know it at the moment. But it was clearly, at the very minimum an extremely bad mistake, and it could possibly be more than that, but we can't say yet."

The humanitarian situation in northern Yemen has deteriorated rapidly since mid-August when the latest fighting broke out between the armed forces and al-Houthi rebels, aid agencies say.

The rebels say they want autonomy and accuse President Ali Abdullah Saleh of tyranny, corruption and escalating a conflict over central control that began in 2004.

Pillay said civilians caught up in the fighting lack access to food, water and medicines. She also voiced concern about the safety of aid workers trying to deliver vital humanitarian assistance, the treatment of captured fighters, access to hospitals for the wounded and greater freedom for press to cover the conflict.

The UN estimates that some 150,000 people have been displaced since 2004 by persistent instability in and around northern Yemen's Saada city.

The latest bout of fierce fighting which broke out a month ago between government troops and Shiite rebels has forced 55,000 to flee.

To have a war crime, you have to have some form of intention -- and that's not clear from the situation as we know it at the moment. But it was clearly, at the very minimum an extremely bad mistake, and it could possibly be more than that, but we can't say yet

Spokesman Rupert Colville