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Saudi-led coalition kills dozens in migrant boat off Yemen: UN

UN report accuses members of anti-Houthi coalition of hiding behind alliance to shield themselves from state responsibility
Pro-government soldier in port of western Yemeni coastal town of Mokha earlier this year (AFP)

UN investigators accused a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition of carrying out a deadly March attack on a Somali migrant boat off Yemen and said the alliance had become a cover for some states to avoid individual blame, according to a confidential report seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

The coalition fighting the Houthi militia in Yemen has denied striking the boat in the Red Sea near the port of Hodeidah. The investigators said the attack killed 42 people and wounded 34 of the more than 140 people onboard.

"This civilian vessel was almost certainly attacked using a 7.62 mm caliber weapon from an armed utility helicopter," the investigators, who monitor sanctions in Yemen, wrote in a 185-page report to the UN Security Council on Monday.

"The Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces are the only parties to the conflict that have the capability to operate armed utility helicopters in the area," the report said. It added that the helicopter was likely operating from a naval vessel.

The coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 in support of the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. It includes Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal and Sudan.

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The UN report said the attack violated international humanitarian law and threatened the peace, security and stability of Yemen.

It said two other alleged attacks on fishing vessels by helicopter or naval vessels in the Red Sea in March had killed a further 11 people and wounded eight.

The Saudi-led coalition, the governments of the UAE and Egypt and the Combined Maritime Forces had not responded to the investigators' requests for information, the report said.

The coalition receives US arms and logistical support.

"Some individual member states of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition seek to hide behind 'the entity' of the coalition to shield themselves from state responsibility for violations committed by their forces," the investigators said. They did not identify the states.

"Attempts to divert responsibility in this manner from individual states to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition may contribute to further violations continuing with impunity," they wrote.

Top UN officials this month accused the warring parties in Yemen and their international allies of fuelling an unprecedented deadly cholera outbreak, driving millions closer to famine and hindering humanitarian aid access.

UN-led peace talks have stalled. At US Ambassador Nikki Haley's suggestion, the Security Council is considering sending letters to the warring parties reminding them of their humanitarian obligations.

The letter has to be agreed by consensus and Egypt has objected to the draft, said a senior council diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity, adding that negotiations were continuing.