Accidental blast in Yemen kills 5 demining specialists

Ahmed Al-Haj
Associated Press

Sanaa, Yemen – Five foreign demining specialists were killed in an accidental explosion in Yemen while transporting mines and explosives to be destroyed, their employer said Monday.

The MASAM Demining Project said the two South Africans, a Croatian, a Bosnian and a Kosovar were killed Sunday while transporting the material in the central Marib province to a remote location where it could be safely detonated. It said a British national was wounded.

The project, part of the Saudi King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, began last year and seeks to remove unexploded ordnance from Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been at war with Iran-aligned Houthi rebels since 2015.

MASAM says the experts “lost their lives while attempting to bring safety and security to the Yemeni people, and their service to mankind will not be forgotten.”

U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths meanwhile arrived in the capital, Sanaa, on an unannounced visit on Monday to discuss the situation in and around the coastal city of Hodeida, where Yemen’s warring parties agreed to a cease-fire last month. The two sides also agreed to a prisoner exchange last month that has yet to take place.

Also under discussion will be disagreements between Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who hold Hodeida, and Retired Dutch Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert, who is heading a U.N. mission charged with monitoring the cease-fire. The mission plans to send additional observers into Yemen and wants to secure their safety, especially after a U.N.-marked armored vehicle in Cammaert’s convoy was hit with a round of small arms fire last week.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that the mediators are trying to arrange the first face-to-face meeting between government representatives and the rebels. Cammaert has had to shuttle between government and rebel representatives in different rooms. Dujarric gave no timetable of when a face-to-face meeting might be held.

The refusal of the government and the Houthis to sit in the same room is another indication of the lack of trust between the warring parties and the difficulty in implementing the full cease-fire agreement they reached in Sweden.

Dujarric said Griffiths will also visit Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, in the coming days.