UN calls on US to reverse labelling Huthi rebels 'terrorists'

United Nations (United States) (AFP) –

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The United States must cancel its decision to classify Yemen's Huthi rebels as "terrorists" to avoid the risk of a famine not seen for decades, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council on Thursday.

"What is the likely humanitarian impact? The answer is a large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years," said Mark Lowcock, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

He said exemptions to allow aid agencies to deliver supplies, as suggested by Washington, would not be sufficient to avoid a famine, adding "what would prevent it? A reversal of the decision."

The decision has drawn criticism from aid groups over fears it will exacerbate the already dire humanitarian crisis in war-ravaged Yemen.

Outgoing US President Donald Trump's administration announced the last-ditch move on Sunday with just days to go before his successor Joe Biden takes over in the White House.

The designation is set to come into force on January 19 -- the eve of the inauguration of Biden, whose aides had hoped to mount a fresh push to end Yemen's six-year war.

It has also been seen as complicating the incoming US leader's promised efforts to restart diplomacy with Iran, which has links to the Huthis.

The rebels control much of Yemen and have faced a bloody offensive from US-ally Saudi Arabia, with millions in the country depending on relief to survive.

A designation as a terrorist group is expected to scare away outside actors from many transactions with Huthi authorities, including bank transfers and buying food and fuel, for fear of US prosecution.

Aid groups have warned against the blacklisting of the Huthis, saying that they have no option but to deal with what is the de facto government in northern Yemen.