Red Cross awaits news of staffer kidnapped in Yemen

Yemeni men stand next to a building destroyed in clashes between fighters from the Popular Resistance Committees and Shiite Huthi rebels (AFP Photo/Abdullah al-Qadry)

Sanaa (AFP) - The International Committee of the Red Cross said Friday it was still awaiting news about a Tunisian employee kidnapped by gunmen in Yemen three days previously.

Nourane Hawas, responsible for a humanitarian aid programme at the ICRC mission in the Huthi rebel-held capital, was seized Tuesday along with a Yemeni employee who was released several hours later.

"We have nothing new on this abduction, and are continuing contacts with the authorities in an attempt to find out more about the kidnappers and their motive," the ICRC's Yemen mission spokeswoman Rima Kamal told AFP.

Kamal said on that, for security reasons, the ICRC "has temporarily evacuated from Yemen 12" of its 264 foreign employees in the war-wracked Arabian Peninsula state.

"Movements of personnel in the country have been suspended since Tuesday, but our activities, including distribution of food and medicines, continue normally," she said.

Sanaa has been controlled for more than a year by the Iran-backed Shiite rebels who have also seized other provinces in the country.

The unrest escalated in March when a pro-government coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched air strikes targeting the Huthi insurgents.

On Wednesday, ICRC Director General Yves Daccord told AFP in Geneva that the kidnapping of Hawas underscored the "extremely fragile" situation in the country for humanitarian workers.

In September, two ICRC employees were killed by gunfire north of Sanaa. In a separate incident later in the month, two Yemeni volunteers with the Red Crescent and a group of civilians were killed in a Saudi-led air strike.

The increased violence since March has heavily affected the humanitarian relief effort.

More than 5,700 people have been killed in the fighting, while 82 percent of the population -- 21 million people -- are in urgent need of aid.

UN envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has been holding talks for weeks with all sides to try to launch peace talks, but no date has been announced for formal negotiations.