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FILE PHOTO: The United Nations flag flies in front of the Secretariat Building at the United Nations headquarters in New York City September 18, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo


By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations on Wednesday demanded media access to report on the "man-made catastrophe" in Yemen after a Saudi Arabia-led coalition blocked three foreign journalists from travelling on a U.N. aid flight to the Houthi rebel-controlled capital Sanaa.

"Steps like this do not help," U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York. "This has been a large man-made humanitarian problem, the world needs to know and journalists need to have access."

The coalition, which intervened in the Yemen conflict in 2015 in support of the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, controls the airspace over Yemen and can prevent any flights made without prior permission.

The Saudi-led coalition, which is backing Yemen government forces fighting the Iran-allied Houthi rebels, prevented the U.N. flight from departing Djibouti on Tuesday because the journalists were due to travel.

Haq said the U.N. humanitarian air service had been allowed to take off on Wednesday and had landed in Sanaa carrying 26 humanitarian aid workers, but not the three journalists from the British Broadcasting Corporation.

"This partially explains why Yemen, which is one of the world's largest humanitarian crises, is not getting enough attention in international media," Haq said.

"The lack of coverage is hindering humanitarian workers efforts to draw the attention of the international community and donors to the man-made catastrophe that the country is experiencing," he said.

Top United Nations officials last week slammed the warring parties in Yemen and their international allies for fuelling an unprecedented deadly cholera outbreak, driving millions closer to famine and hindering humanitarian aid access.

Since the end of April, the World Health Organisation said there have been more than 320,000 suspected cases of cholera - a disease that causes uncontrollable diarrhoea - and 1,742 deaths across more than 90 percent of the Arabian Peninsula country.

Haq said the journalists had been carrying visas from the Yemen government.

A source in the coalition said that the Yemeni government was the only party entitled to issue visas for foreigners and that entry must be made via commercial flights through Aden airport, which is under its control.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Diane Craft)

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