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Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (L) greets U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., June 22, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson.


By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon warned countries on Tuesday that if "you want to protect your image, protect children" after diplomats said in June that Saudi Arabia threatened to cut U.N. funding when its military coalition was blacklisted for killing children in Yemen.

Riyadh denied making such threats. But Ban said in June he had come under "unacceptable" pressure that led him to temporarily remove the coalition from the blacklist, annexed to a U.N. children and armed conflict report, pending a review.

Ban told the U.N. Security Council he had received information from the Saudi-led coalition on measures taken to prevent attacks on children and said the review was continuing.

"I still have very strong concerns about the protection of Yemeni children. They must always come first," Ban said. "We will continue our engagement to ensure that concrete measures to protect children are implemented."

The annual U.N. report said the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year, killing 510 and wounding 667. The Saudi-led coalition includes United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal and Sudan.

"The content of the report stands," Ban said. "The report and its annexes may cause discomfort ... If you want to protect your image, protect children."

The Saudi-led coalition began a military campaign in Yemen in March last year with the aim of preventing Iranian-allied Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemen's ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking power.

Saudi U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi told the council that Saudi Arabia was committed to abiding by international humanitarian law, has clear rules of engagement to protect civilians and believes children are a priority.

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will always be one of the first to provide assistance to the United Nations system, but it is also our view that the United Nations must discharge its mandate and do so neutrally and transparently," Mouallimi said.

U.N. sanctions monitors said in January that the Saudi-led coalition had targeted civilians, sparking calls for the United States and Britain to halt sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the council that Washington encouraged states to engage with the United Nations on the report and to challenge findings they deem inaccurate or unjustified by presenting evidence.

"Even if we governments do not ultimately agree with certain U.N. findings or conclusions, we must maintain support for the United Nations," Power said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by David Gregorio)


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