A UNDP representative and An Houthi-controlled YEMAC official shake hands after vehicle handover. (UNDP photo) Image Credit: UNDP

Cairo: Yemen’s internationally-recognised government has sharply criticised the UN for handing over vehicles to Iran-aligned Al Houthi militants allegedly to help in demining efforts, calling it a “new scandal”.

On Tuesday, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) announced providing 20 Hilux armoured vehicles to the Yemen Executive Action Centre (YEMAC), a militant-controlled agency, to support its purported demining efforts in the Red Sea city of Hodeida.

Yemeni Information Minister Moammar Al Eryani Wednesday called the step a “new UN scandal and seriously puts Yemenis’ lives at risk”.

The UN move comes amid the Yemeni government’s accusation of UN envoy Martin Griffiths of bias towards Al Houthis, who have plunged the country into a four-year-old devastating war.

“Since their coup against the legitimate government four years ago, Al Houthi militias have not announced removing a single landmine,” said Al Eryani in a tweet.

He accused the extremists of planting hundreds of thousands of mines across the country.

“Their leaders came out, celebrating and boasting the launch of labs for manufacturing mines and explosives, which have left thousands of civilians victims,” he added.

Al Eryani warned that Al Houthis will use the vehicles in their combat operations in Hodeida and the flashpoint south-western province of Dhale.

“It is regrettable that the funding, offered by the sisterly and friendly countries to Yemen’s UN relief programmes, is diverted to finance Al Houthis’ mine-making programmes under Iranian supervision,” he added in a series of tweets.

A UNDP statement said that the vehicles will be immediately dispatched to ensure the safety and security of the deminers in Hodeida through which most humanitarian aid and imports to Yemen enter.

The western city has been under Al Houthis’ control since late 2014 and is the focus of a faltering peace deal brokered by the UN in December.

The UNDP added that the vehicle handover is the first of a larger procurement for YEMAC in both northern and southern Yemen.

Yemen’s conflict erupted after Al Houthis unseated the government and overran parts of the country, including the capital Sana’a, in late 2014.

In March, 2015, an Arab alliance led by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, intervened in Yemen in response to a request from the government after Al Houthis advanced on the southern city of Aden, the country’s provisional capital.