Families flee as Houthis conscript children in Yemen’s south-west

Pro-government forces say they have opened safe corridors to help civilians flee rebel-controlled areas

FILE - In this file photo dated Saturday Sept. 21, 2019, Shiite Houthi tribesmen hold their weapons during a tribal gathering showing support for the Houthi movement, in Sanaa, Yemen.  Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition have fought Yemen’s civil war to a stalemate, but officials in Sudan said on Saturday Nov. 16, 2019, an attack by Yemeni rebels killed six members of a Sudanese paramilitary force that’s been fighting in Yemen.
 (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, FILE)
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Dozens of families have fled Houthi-held areas in south-west Yemen as rebel fighters try to forcibly recruit children and extort money from locals, people who have escaped told The National.

Displaced residents said the Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been going house to house demanding recruits to join the front lines.

We have been working hard to help the civilians being oppressed by the Houthi rebels

“In the last couple of months, the Houthis called on all the residents living in our area, Al Aoud, to send their sons to the front to boost their fighters in Al Fakher area," one resident said.

"We rejected their calls and consequently they arrested many fathers and took their sons to the front.

“They have been wreaking havoc in my village, they stormed our school and turned it to weapons depots and repeatedly forced us to pay money to fund their fronts.

"Lately they forced many families to leave their homes and turned them to fortifications because they expect the pro-Coalition forces to advance to capture the area.

Capt Fuad Jubari, spokesman for the Southern Forces fighting the Houthi rebels in northern Al Dhalea, told The National his forces had secured safe corridors to allow residents to flee from Al Aoud to safe areas in northern Qatabah.

“We have been working hard to help the civilians being oppressed by the Houthi rebels in Al Aoud villages to areas under the control of our forces,” Capt Jubari said.

“What has been done by the Houthis in Al Aoud areas is really horrible. They have been committing crimes against innocent civilians.”

He condemned the silence from international bodies and human rights organisations on the matter.

Elsewhere, pro-Yemeni government forces repelled a rebel attack in the contentious Hodeidah district over the weekend, killing several Houthi fighters.

"Seven Houthi fighters were killed when two Houthi groups tried to penetrate sites controlled by the Joint Forces in Al Fazah area, in Al Tuhaiyta district in southern Hodeidah, on Saturday," Col Wathah Al Dubaish, spokesman of the Joint Forces,  told The National.

“The two Houthi groups, which carried out the attack, included fighters carrying light weapons such as Kalashnikovs, RPG launchers."

Col Al Dubaish said the Iran-backed rebels snuck into the Khandak Al Thouban post in northern Al Fazah but were seen and seven of them were killed. The rest fled.

“The new Houthi attack was documented by our forces and sent to the UN monitors as new evidence that proves the Houthis' continuous attempts to end the UN ceasefire and to undermine the efforts exerted by the UN to promote the peace process,” he said.

“We are fully committed to the ceasefire and strongly support the UN efforts but we will not keep silent watching the Houthi rebels killing our soldiers and shelling innocent civilians."

In December 2018, the Yemeni government and rebel representatives agreed to a ceasefire in Hodeidah province.

Under the deal, the city’s vital port would be administered by international agencies after both sides withdrew to let a local force oversee security.

In the 11 months since the agreement, many terms are still unimplemented because of disputes raised by the rebels on who would take over security and other matters.

While there has been a decrease in fighting in the district and the full government offensive to capture the town has been called off, there are still sporadic clashes.

This month, the head of the UN’s observer mission, Lt Gen Abhijit Guha, said that progress made by setting up joint observation posts in and around the port city was under threat because of the Houthis' breaches, including digging new trenches and tunnels.

"The past days have witnessed reports of incidents involving the construction of new fortifications, movement of forces, and use of drones, all of which are in contravention of ceasefire agreements between the two parties," Gen Guha said.