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UN chief took Saudis off blacklist over threat to stop funds

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UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday criticized Saudi Arabia and its allies for resorting to “undue pressure” to remove the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen from a UN blacklist by threatening to cut off funding.

Ban’s decision to take the coalition off the list of child rights violators triggered a storm of protest from rights groups who charge the UN chief caved in to Saudi pressure and damaged the world body’s credibility.

In his first public remarks about the uproar, Ban said he took the “painful and difficult” decision when he faced the “very real prospect” that millions of children would suffer if countries de-funded many programs.

“It is unacceptable for member-states to exert undue pressure,” Ban told reporters. “Scrutiny is a natural and necessary part of the United Nations.”

The United Nations blacklisted the coalition after concluding in a report released a week ago that it was responsible for 60 percent of the 785 children killed in Yemen last year.

But in an embarrassing climb-down for the United Nations, Ban announced on Monday that the coalition would be scratched from the list of shame pending a joint review with the Saudi-led alliance.

Saudi Ambassador Abdullah al-Mouallimi denied that his government had put pressure on the United Nations to reverse its decision by threatening to cut off millions of dollars in funding.

“We did say that such a listing and such unfair treatment would obviously have an impact on relations,” said Mouallimi.

“But we did not use threats or intimidation and we did not talk about funding,” he added.

UN officials and Security Council diplomats confirmed that the Saudis had “whipped up a lot of supporters” to pressure Ban to make the changes, and threatened in particular to withdraw funding from the Palestinian relief agency UNRWA.

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