At least 81 civilians killed in Yemen in December despite ceasefire: UN

At least 81 civilians were killed in Yemen last month despite a short-lived and repeatedly violated ceasefire, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Geneva: At least 81 civilians were killed in Yemen last month, most of them in Saudi-led airstrikes, despite a short-lived and repeatedly violated ceasefire, the United Nations said Tuesday.

"During the month of December, at least 62 civilians were reported to have been killed by airstrikes attributed to the coalition forces," Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN human rights agency, told reporters.

That number, he pointed out, was more than double the 29 civilians reported killed in such strikes a month earlier.

The number of civilians killed by the Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels and their allies was meanwhile cut by two thirds to at least 11 in December from 32 a month earlier, Colville said.

The remaining eight civilian deaths last month have not yet been conclusively attributed to either side, he told AFP.

The dramatic increase in the number of civilians killed in airstrikes came despite a ceasefire declared on December 15, at the same time as UN-backed peace talks between the warring sides began in Switzerland.

But the talks ended five days later with no major breakthrough, and the ceasefire collapsed on January 2 after being violated on a daily basis. Colville pointed out that UN rights agency staff had begun receiving reports of violations "within minutes of the ceasefire beginning. The ceasefire certainly did little to shield civilians."

On December 18, he pointed out, 18 civilians were allegedly killed when two airstrikes hit a civilian house in Wadi Kena, in Saada, and two days later, six civilians, including three children, were killed in strikes on a residential neighbourhood in Al Hudayhda City.

The airstrikes have continued into the new year, with some 11 strikes taking place in Sanaa on Sunday and Monday alone, with reports of further airstrikes Tuesday morning, Colville said, pointing to reports indicating that civilian buildings had been hit in densely populated areas of Sanaa.

Colville also decried "alarming information" that coalition forces used cluster bombs in Hajjah governorate, saying that a field visit by UN rights office staff last month had found remnants of 29 cluster submunitions near banana plantations in the village of al-Odair in Haradh district.

He said other villages and other districts also appeared to have been affected. Colville also voiced particular concern at the humanitarian situation in violence-wracked Taez, lamenting that "strict control of all entry points into the city by the popular committees affiliated with the Huthis has resulted in limited access to essential items, including food."

Yemen`s conflict erupted in September 2014, when the Huthis advanced from their northern strongholds to occupy the capital Sanaa. Since the conflict escalated dramatically when the Saudi-led air strikes began in March, at least 2,795 civilians have been killed and 5,324 wounded, Colville said.

A new round of peace talks have been scheduled for January 14 in an unspecified location.

And UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is set to visit Riyadh on Wednesday amid fears that a diplomatic storm unleased by Saudi Arabia`s break in relations with Iran could thwart the efforts to end Yemen`s conflict.