Air raid on refugees kills 87 in Yemen
Thu Sep 17, 2009
SANAA (Reuters) - More than 80 refugees were killed in a government raid against a camp in north Yemen where Shi'ite rebels are challenging President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a camp source and news reports said on Thursday.
A refugee at the at Adi at Wadi Sufyan, at the center of fighting which erupted in early August, said about 87 people died in the raid on Wednesday afternoon.
The source, who did not want to reveal his name, said the bodies were buried on Thursday, including 45 women and 16 children.
"The camp was taken by surprise by the air force bombing them," he said. "When one plane starting firing some people ran toward the water canal, but they were killed when the plane fired at them again."
The independent website News Yemen said 85 people died.
"An air raid hit them in the area when they were sleeping under trees and plastic awnings," it said, citing witnesses.
It said the air force then staged a second raid on the camp.
The rebels, who also posted images of dead and wounded from a previous alleged air raid in al-Talh on Monday, accused the government on their website of committing brutal crimes.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said the situation was growing more "precarious by the day."
"The tragic loss of civilian lives in Wadi Sufyan, where more than 80 civilians were reportedly killed, demonstrates that thousands of people are seriously endangered by fighting in remote areas," Martin Amacher, the acting head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen, said in a statement.
The Yemen Center for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization, said it had evidence that planes had targeted a crowded market area in al-Talh, causing dozens of casualties.
"The Center calls on the Yemeni government, as the party responsible for protecting lives, to order an end to targeting civilians," a statement said, asking for humanitarian corridors so people and aid could move in safety.
An official statement said Saleh had ordered an investigation into Wednesday's camp attack. The government has not commented on the reports of deaths on Monday in al-Talh.
The official September 16 website reported military operations in Harf Sufyan but did not mention the air strike.
"Armed force and security units managed to teach the rebels hard lessons and severe losses with daring operations," it said.
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement: "The Yemeni government should be investigating what may have been a horrific attack on civilians. Civilians should never be attacked."
The government in Sanaa says the rebels, referred to as Houthis after their leaders' clan, want to restore a Shi'ite state that fell in the 1960s.
The rebels say they want autonomy and accuse the Western and Saudi-backed Saleh of tyranny, corruption and escalating a conflict over central control that began in 2004.
U.N. aid agencies say more than 100,000 people have fled their homes during the surge in fighting. They launched an appeal in Geneva last month for $23.5 million to help Yemen. Thousands are staying in tented camps in mountainous territory.
Media have had difficulty accessing the conflict zone in Saada and Amran provinces and verifying conflicting reports from each side.
They have accused the government of using Saudi jets and weaponry. Sanaa denies this and accuses Iran of ties to the rebels, who belong to the Shi'ite Zaydi sect.
"It is also extremely urgent that the injured be evacuated, but security constraints often prevent us from doing so," said Andrew Cameron, an ICRC health official in Yemen.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Hammond in Dubai and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)