Sana'a - Yemen’s Houthi rebels have killed and maimed hundreds of civilians and prevented many of the displaced from returning to their homes, an international rights group said on Thursday.
Human Rights Watch said the Shiite rebels, who are allied with the forces of the country’s former president, have used landmines in at least six provinces since March 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition launched its military campaign against them to restore the internationally recognized government.
Steve Goose, Director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch, said the Houthis and forces of Yemen’s ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh "have been flouting the land mine ban at the expense of Yemeni civilians".
He added that Yemen had banned land mines two decades ago.
The Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab Sunni countries has waged a campaign to dislodge the Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital and some other areas in 2014 and forced the government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi to flee the country.
Citing the Landmine Monitor Initiative by the international campaign to ban landmines, HRW said at least 988 people were either killed or wounded by landmines in Yemen since 2015.
The war in Yemen has killed about 10,000 civilians and displaced nearly 3 million people.
In January, the rights group said a demining team lost one of its members during a clearance operation in the Nihm Mountains outside of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. One team member stepped on a land mine and was killed; a second lost his two legs the next day.
HRW also cited an incident in May last year, when a young man was killed and his mother was wounded as they stepped on land mines near their home. The displaced family was returning home to the Nihm Mountains when the incident happened.
Days later, one of the family’s neighbors lost his legs in another land mine explosion that also killed several sheep, the rights group said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that Iran's destabilizing influence in the Middle East would have to be overcome to end the conflict in Yemen, as the United States weighs increasing support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting there.
"We will have to overcome Iran's efforts to destabilize yet another country and create another militia in their image of Lebanese Hezbollah, but the bottom line is we are on the right path for it," Mattis told reporters in Riyadh after meeting senior Saudi officials.