[This is a translation of an article that appeared in Al Akhbar [Arabic] a few days ago. Link below.]
Two Americans have been under surveillance who have regularly visited the site that is the current temporary residence of the UN team. The UN are based in the Sheraton Hotel in Yemen’s capital Sanaa.
This hotel had been used previously by the US diplomatic mission until it’s evacuation from Sanaa early 2015. The U.S. Diplomatic Mission allowed the UN to to work from these premises temporarily until it could be considered safe for the Mission to return to Yemen once the hostilities had ceased.
The UN does not pay anything for the use of the facility and is not responsible for the maintenance of the premises that belong to the US Foreign Affairs Ministry but events over the last two weeks reveal that perhaps the UN repays Washington in more ways than one for the use of these premises.
The UN mission in Yemen operates with a very small staff, probably less than a hundred, consisting of Yemeni nationals, non Yemeni Arab nationals and foreign nationals.
These UN staff members travel between Yemen and Djibouti on UN-chartered private planes. Djibouti is now the only gateway to the world for Yemenis who are under an internationally supported blockade.
The two Americans who were under surveillance were transported using UN vehicles despite the fact that UN law prohibits the use of their vehicles for the transportation of any non-UN staff regardless of the situation, in order to maintain its neutral status.
On the evening of the 20th of October, a private UN plane arrived in Sanaa, from Djibouti On board were two American citizens, Mark McAllister and John Hamen, who were ostensibly working for a maintenance company, Al Rafideen, contracted by the US Mission to provide services to their now vacated offices in the Sheraton Hotel, Sanaa.
At this point, Yemen National Security moved in and arrested the two men, taking them to an unknown location.
Attempts were made by the chief of staff of the UN mission in Sanaa to intervene and secure the release of the two Americans. The UN engaged in direct talks with the Yemeni government and Ansar Allah. The response from the Yemeni side was curt and to the point stating that this was not within the UN’s jurisdiction and the UN has nothing to do with the two men in question.
The UN official confirmed to the local government and AnsarAllah that the two men were working for a company now contracted by the UN and had been invited to Sanaa by the UN to maintain premises [that they do not pay for and where the UN is not responsible for maintenance – edit] Unsurprisingly all UN efforts to secure the release of McAllister and Hamen have been unsuccessful.
The UN was then informed that one of the two men was recognised as a “security agent” who had been working with the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Sanaa prior to their departure. The UN was informed by the relevant local Yemeni authorities that the UN’s involvement with any foreign intelligence is in direct violation of its fundamental principles and lawful activities in Yemen. This puts the UN in a very precarious and embarrassing position in Yemen.
“Al-Akhbar” asked the official spokesman on behalf of the UN Secretary General whether UN staff members were facing any hardships in Yemen:
“Yes, we face hardships due to the security situation and we are unable to distribute relief aid to Yemenis as we would be able to under normal circumstances.”
Responding to the question of whether or not the UN is in communication with the Saudi-led coalition, the UN official stated
” As in the case of every war-torn area, the UN maintains communication with all factions involved in the conflict to guarantee UN convoy security.”
“Al-Akhbar” also asked the UN official why the UN had allowed two non UN operatives, now in Yemeni & AnsarAllah custody, to travel to Yemen in a UN privately chartered plane. This contravenes all internationally agreed upon protocols that strictly prohibit the use of UN transportation for non UN staff. The seriousness of the situation is intensified by the fact that Yemen authorities have accused both men of being Washington intelligence agents.
The UN official responded cautiously, stating that he is aware of the two men whom he believes to be UN contractors. He is aware of their situation but has no update on the incident. He added that the UN would not have transported any such operatives into or out of Yemen without using the proper channels of communication. He reiterated the official line that the two men are likely to be service contractors brought in to carry out maintenance on the adopted UN premises. [my edit: despite the UN not being responsible for the premises]
The incident is highly sensitive. It does not only involve McAllister and Hamen, still in custody, but raises the uncomfortable question, what role is the UN playing in Yemen and for that matter, in other war torn countries in the region?
Yemeni citizens working for the UN have expressed their frustration at not being allowed to implement solutions to the dire humanitarian situation in their country, and have complained of having their movements and activities closely surveyed.
Yemeni security have informed the UN directly that this particular case violates the sovereignty of their country and its security.
A local security official informed the UN in Yemen that such actions will have serious repercussions upon their activities within Yemen. Initial investigations into the two Washington assets in custody have shown that both men are linked to activities suspected to be espionage and investigations have exposed one of the men as a Washington intelligence agent who had already worked with Yemeni agents and who was well known to Yemen’s security officials.
The second man is an officer in the US Marines who has served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.
The naturally concerned Yemeni authorities have informed the UN that the UN has no jurisdiction over these two men and should not interfere in Yemen’s security matters.
As a consequence, all UN vehicles are being carefully and systematically inspected in the capital Sanaa. UN drivers are being checked and all passenger passports demanded for verification. This is now routine both at the airport and on the streets of Sanaa.
The matter was further complicated when a shot was fired at a UN vehicle and the bullet penetrated the car on October 22 2015 while it was travelling towards Sanaa airport. No casualties were reported but its quite possible that this was a warning shot across UN bows.
What is certain however, is that both Ansar Allah and the General People’s Congress party in Yemen are highly displeased with UN Peace Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh’s recent role in siding with the Saudi-led coalition and disregarding all the points agreed upon in the Muscat talks.
Both parties are also understandably enraged by Washington’s role in supporting the Saudi-led coalition’s aggression on Yemen that is devastating the country. Washington has provided direct support to the Saudi coalition by supplying weapons, intelligence information, air surveillance and logistic support for air strikes. This support has been widely documented in the media.
Yemeni officials in Sanaa are on high alert regarding any intelligence network that could provide support to the Saudi-led coalition air strikes that have predominantly targeted civilians. This, despite continuous UN communications with the Saudi coalition’s operations room in the Saudi capital Al-Riyadh informing them of the co-ordinates of the UN location and areas of work.
Riyadh however, does not seem to be overly concerned with that information as was clearly seen when the Sauds directly targeted and bombed the UN Development Project in Aden. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon expressed criticism of Riyadh’s disregard and called for an investigation into the strikes but to date no such investigation has been instigated.
Riyadh came under criticism again for the disregard it showed by directly bombing the World Food Programmes’s storage facility, and several hospitals operating under international organizations directly affiliated with the UN.