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Oman denies arms smuggled through border to Houthis

Foreign ministry says allegations Iranian arms reached rebels via Oman are 'baseless' and that smugglers are delivering directly to Yemeni coast
Houthi women fighters pose with weapons during an anti-Saudi rally Yemen's capital, Sanaa, earlier this month (AFP)

Oman has strongly denied claims that Iranian arms are being smuggled through its border with Yemen to Houthi rebels, saying traffickers were using unmonitored areas of the war-torn nation's coast.

"This is baseless," the sultanate's foreign ministry said in a statement on its website late on Thursday. "There are no weapons passing through the sultanate's territory" to Yemen.

The denial came in response to a report about the alleged smuggling route by the Reuters news agency citing diplomatic sources.

Oman, one of the few Arab states which have good relations with Iran, a backer of the Houthis, has used its links to mediate peace talks between the rebels and Yemen's UN-recognised government.

The foreign ministry said the issue of arms smuggling "has been proven false after being discussed with member states of the (pro-government) Arab coalition, the United States and the United Kingdom".

"Yemeni shores that are close to Oman's coast are not subjected to the control of any government authority in Yemen. Therefore, these shores are open to arms smugglers," it added.

Oman is the only Arab nation in the Gulf that has remained outside the Saudi-led coalition which in March 2015 launched a military campaign against the rebels in support of exiled Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

In its report, Reuters cited diplomats from the US and another western country, from Yemen and from Iran.

A senior US official told Reuters that Washington had conveyed its concerns to Oman about the suspected flow of weapons into neighbouring Yemen.

Another Western diplomat said there had been a "recent increased frequency of weapons shipments supplied by Iran, which are reaching the Houthis via the Omani border".

"What they're bringing in via Oman are anti-ship missiles, explosives... money and personnel," another US official said.

Both Saudi Arabia and the US have accused Iran of supplying weapons to the Houthis, but Tehran has denied the claim.

However, Reuters quoted a senior Iranian diplomat who said there had been a "sharp surge in Iran's help to the Houthis in Yemen" since May, referring to weapons, training and money.

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