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Yemen Rebels Admit Tear Gas Touched Off Fire at Migrant Detention Facility

FILE - A view of the detention center is seen before the fire, left, on March 4, 2021, and after fire, right, in this March 11, 2011, handout satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies.

Yemen's Houthi rebels broke their silence Saturday about the cause of a fire that tore through a detention center earlier this month, killing at least 45 people, mostly Ethiopian migrants.

The rebels acknowledged that guards had fired three tear gas canisters into a crowded hangar in the capital, Sanaa, trying to end a protest by the migrants.

A statement from the rebels said at least 11 men from the security forces had been detained over the incident, along with a number of senior officials who would face trial before a court.

The migrant community in Sanaa has called for an international probe into the tragedy, a demand that international rights groups backed.

About 900 migrants were being held at the facility, including more than 350 inside the hangar. The Passports and Naturalization Authority ran the site.

At least 45 people were killed in the March 7 fire, the rebels said, including one who died of his wounds Friday. More than 200 others were wounded.

The migrants had been protesting and went on a hunger strike against alleged abuses and ill treatment at the detention facility, according to survivors and local rights advocates.

On Saturday, the rebels claimed that the migrants were protesting to pressure the International Organization for Migration to transfer them.

Despite its six-year-old civil war, Yemen remains a transit point for tens of thousands of African migrants desperate to find jobs as housekeepers, servants and construction workers in Saudi Arabia.