By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations will start inspecting shipments to rebel-held ports in Yemen in a bid to boost commercial imports and enforce an arms embargo, the world body said on Tuesday, some eight months after announcing it would establish such a procedure.
Yemen relies almost solely on imports, but a 14-month long conflict between Houthi rebels and a Saudi Arabian-led coalition has slowed to a trickle commercial shipments to the impoverished country where 80 percent of people need humanitarian aid.
The United Nations announced in September it would set up a verification and inspection mechanism. Then in October U.N. aid chief Stephen O'Brien said the United Nations was still trying to raise some $8 million to fund the Djibouti-based operation.
It began operations on Monday, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the European Union, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Britain and the United States had provided financing.
"It should provide fast and impartial clearance services for shipping companies transporting commercial imports and bilateral assistance to Yemeni ports outside of the authority of the Government of Yemen," Dujarric said.
The United Nations will ensure commercial shipments to rebel-held ports are not carrying weapons in violation of a U.N. arms embargo. The light U.N. regime will replace inspections by the Saudi-led coalition, which slowed commercial shipments.
A Saudi-led coalition began a military campaign in Yemen in March last year with the aim of preventing Iran-allied Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemen's ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking control of the country.
A month later the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo targeting the Houthi rebels and Saleh's troops.
More than 6,200 people have been killed in the conflict, half of them civilians. The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said in March that nearly half of Yemen's 22 provinces are on the verge of famine.
The Yemeni government suspended direct U.N.-brokered peace talks to end the conflict on Sunday after the Houthi movement and its armed allies seized a military base north of the capital Sanaa.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by David Gregorio)