Saudis invite UN team for talks on child rights black list
RIYADH - The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen has invited a UN team to visit its headquarters in Riyadh for talks on a UN report that blamed the military alliance for the deaths of hundreds of children in Yemen.
Saudi Ambassador Abdullah al-Mouallimi extended the invitation in a letter sent to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week, but UN officials say they would rather hold talks in New York.
"We're studying it," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday. "We obviously remain interested in what information the Saudi-led coalition could provide us."
He added that "our preference" would be to hold meetings at UN headquarters in New York.
The United Nations had blacklisted the coalition after concluding in a report that it was responsible for 60 percent of the 785 deaths of children in Yemen last year.
But the world body later reversed its stance and removed the coalition from the list of shame pending a joint review with the Saudi-led alliance.
Ban last week admitted that he had succumbed to "undue pressure" from Saudi Arabia and its allies who had threatened to cut off funding to UN aid programs over the blacklisting.
The coalition launched an air campaign in support of Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi in March 2015 to push back Huthi rebels after they seized the capital Sanaa and many parts of the country.
The war has killed some 6,400 people and exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in the impoverished country, according to the United Nations.
In his letter, Mouallimi said "the coalition invites a team of experts to visit the coalition headquarters in Riyadh, with advance notice, and jointly review the cases and number in the report to ensure objectivity and accuracy."
"The coalition was created precisely to protect civilians, including children, in the aftermath of the military escalation by the Huthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Saleh," he wrote.
The Saudi ambassador requested "a detailed overview of the methodology and modality that were used to create the number in the report and the sources relied on for said numbers."
Mouallimi has denied threatening to cut off funding to the United Nations and has said that the decision to take the coalition off the list was "final and irreversible".
The UN Security Council is set to discuss the blacklist contained in the annual UN report on children and armed conflict during a meeting in August.
Dujarric, however, said there had been no senior-level face-to-face meetings on resolving the dispute over the findings.
Yemen's Ambassador Khaled Alyemany said his government was ready to send the minister for human rights to the Riyadh meeting.