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Indian priest held in Aden pleads for help

ADEN, May 9, (Agencies): An Indian priest kidnapped after an attack on a care home in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden last year has appealed for help in a video recording carried by a Yemeni news website.

Father Tom Uzhunnalil was abducted in March 2016 when four gunmen posing as relatives of one of the residents at the home burst inside, killing four Indian nuns, two Yemeni female staff members, eight elderly residents and a guard.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack and the motive for the incident was unclear, but President Abad Rabbo Mansour Hadi has called it an act of terrorism. “They are treating me well to the extent they are able,” the white-bearded Uzhunnalil said, speaking slowly in English. “My health condition is deteriorating quickly and I require hospitalisation as early as possible,” he added in the recording carried by Aden Time (www.aden-tm.net) news website.

The date April 15, 2017 was written on a cardboard pasted on his body. Uzhunnalil said his kidnappers had contacted the Indian government and the Catholic bishop in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates with their demands, but the response was “not encouraging”. “My dear family people, do what you can to help me be released. Please, please do what you can to help to get me released. May God bless you for that,” he pleaded.

The authenticity of the recording could not immediately be verified. Aden’s minority Christian community have largely fled what used to be a cosmopolitan seaport before it became a conflict zone. During an all-out civil war in March 2015 Iran-aligned Houthis advanced on Aden, forcing the government forces to flee.

A Saudi-led Arab coalition has since helped local fighters expel the Houthis, but security in Aden has not been fully restored. Thirty-four people have died of cholerarelated causes and more than 2,000 have been taken ill in Yemen, as humanitarian organisations warned Tuesday that the outbreak could spiral out of countrol.

This is the second wave of cholera-associated deaths in a year in Yemen, where deadly conflict has destroyed hospitals and left millions of people struggling to access food and clean water. “There have been 34 cholera-associated deaths and 2,022 cases of acute watery diarrhoea in nine governorates, including Sanaa, during the period of April 27 to May 7,” a World Health Organization official told AFP. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) also said on Tuesday it had independently treated more than 780 cases of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea since March 30 in Yemen, calling the hike in numbers an “outbreak”. “We are very concerned that the disease will continue to spread and become out of control,” said Shinjiro Murata, MSF’s head of mission in Yemen. “Humanitarian assistance… needs to be urgently scaled up to limit the spread of the outbreak and anticipate potential other ones.” MSF said patients were travelling dozens of kilometres (miles), in difficult conditions, to reach treatment centres.

The WHO now classifies Yemen as one of the worst humanitarian emergencies in the world alongside Syria, South Sudan, Nigeria and Iraq. Conflict in Yemen has escalated in the past two years, as the Saudi-supported government fights Iran-backed Huthi rebels for control of the impoverished country. The United Nations, which has called Yemen “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world”, estimates more than 7,000 people have been killed since 2015 and three million displaced. Some 17 million also lack adequate food, with one third of the country’s provinces on the brink of famine. Yemen’s worsening confl ict is contributing to a spike in piracy in the region, with Somali pirates taking advantage of a reduced international naval presence and more readily available weaponry to carry out attacks. “The regional instability caused by Yemen is important,” Colonel Richard Cantrill, chief of staff with the European Union’s counter piracy mission EU NAVFOR, told Reuters last week.

Fighting between Yemen’s Iranaligned Houthi rebels and a Saudi-led coalition has spilled over into the shipping lanes through which much of the world’s oil passes. And attacks on merchant ships in recent weeks by Somali gangs around the Gulf of Aden, the first since 2012, have raised fears of a return to hijackings and crews being taken hostage for long periods.

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