Yemen, UNHCR give conflicting advice to refugees

SANAA, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Yemeni authorities said on Tuesday safe corridors had been set up to allow refugees access to four camps offering a safe haven from fighting in the north but U.N. aid agency UNHCR said one of them was not safe.

Aid agencies are warning of a humanitarian crisis in the north, where up to 150,000 people have fled their homes since Shi'ite tribesmen launched an insurgency in 2004. The conflict has intensified since the army unleashed "Operation Scorched Earth" on Aug. 11.

A statement on state news agency Saba said the Supreme Security Committee called on displaced persons to head for four camps in Saada and Amran provinces using "safe corridors".

But the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR in Geneva said it had asked the Yemeni government not to move any more people to one of them, Khaiwan, because of shooting incidents nearby.

"We don't want to see any new internally displaced persons (IDPs) being brought in and potentially harmed," spokesman Andrej Mahecic told a news briefing.

"At the same time, UNHCR appeals to the government to allow the UN to start the distribution of aid to IDPs outside the camp," he said.

This week the UNHCR managed for the first time to bring in an aid convoy from Saudi Arabia, which borders the conflict zone and fears the war could spread northwards or allow al Qaeda a new foothold in Yemen. Riyadh has stopped refugees crossing the border to seek shelter.

The UNHCR hopes to send a second convoy "very soon" to the Alb camp -- of the four mentioned by the government -- where over 3,000 people are gathered, Mahecic said.

Aid agencies have not been allowed access to most of those uprooted by the conflict. Media have also been kept away, making it hard to verify conflicting claims from each side.

"The humanitarian situation is getting worse by the day," Aboudou Karimou Adjibade, UNICEF representative in Yemen, said in a statement.

The rebels, Zaidi Shi'ite Muslims, complain of political, economic and religious discrimination. The governments says they want to set up a religious state that fell in 1962.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Andrew Hammond in Dubai; editing by Samia Nakhoul)


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