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UAE and Saudi Arabia pushed UN for good publicity in exchange for Yemen aid: Report

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A United Nations document has revealed that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates conditioned $930m of aid to Yemen on a UN agency providing favourable publicity for that contribution, the Guardian reported on Tuesday.

According to the leaked document, the Gulf countries said future donations to the UN's OCHA aid agency would be tied to the amount of positive coverage their humanitarian efforts in Yemen received, the newspaper reported.

That includes a demand that OCHA seek favourable media coverage in major newspapers such as the New York Times and the Guardian.

“We consider it very important to ensure that our dear fellow Yemenis are all aware of our donations," reads the document, entitled Visibility Plan, as reported by the Guardian.

"More emphasis should be placed on strengthening the local visibility plan by engaging local media...so that donors get deserved recognition and not to be overshadowed by the recipient agencies’ visibility.”

Saudi Arabia and the UAE have faced mounting public pressure over their role in the devastating war in Yemen, which was launched by a Riyadh-led coalition in 2015 to root out Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The conflict has left tens of thousands dead, while millions of Yemenis are currently on the brink of starvation.

According to the Guardian, the UN document requires agencies who receive aid from Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to document Saudi- and UAE-supported activities in Yemen in photographic and video material.

Though many of the demands were rejected by UN OCHA, among those accepted was for the agency to recruit “a specialised person ... to be the focal point to ensure the implementation plan by all recipient agencies and to consolidate reports,” the newspaper said.

In response to the Guardian, UN OCHA said that most of the donors involved in "Yemen and elsewhere have visibility requirements that are agreed bilaterally with the individual donor. Because they are bilateral agreements, we do not discuss the details of the individual agreements in public".

"Throughout the conflict in Yemen, the UN has been vocal, consistent and public in its call on all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the obligation to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. We will continue to do so," the agency said.
At least 56,000 dead in Yemen armed conflict

According to new data collected by an independent research group, at least 56,000 people have been killed in armed violence in Yemen since January 2016, a tally that is more than five times higher than previously reported.

The new figure encompasses the deaths of both combatants and civilians in Yemen between January 2016 and 20 October 2018, explained Andrea Carboni, a research analyst at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).

It does not take into account the Yemenis who have died as a result of the humanitarian crisis engulfing the country and its related problems, such as diseases and malnutrition.

"The fatality numbers refer to the number of people that were killed as a direct consequence of armed violence," Carboni told Middle East Eye on Monday.

That violence includes air strikes and artillery fire from Saudi-led coalition forces currently fighting in Yemen, as well as armed clashes between various factions fighting inside the country, such as the Houthis.

Middle East Eye could not independently verify the 56,000 number.

The large number of civilian deaths in Yemen has led to calls for a halt in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, particularly in the UK, France, Canada and the United States.

So far, only Germany has suspended the sale of weapons to Riyadh, but this came primarily in response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in early October. Chancellor Angela Merkel said that until there was clarity over the Saudi writer's murder - which has been blamed on Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman - the exports couldn't go ahead.

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