Yemen gov’t, Houthis agree to exchange over 1,000 prisoners

Yemen’s internationally recognised government and the Houthi rebels have agreed to exchange around 1,000 detainees and prisoners, including 15 Saudis, as part of trust-building steps aimed at reviving a stalled peace process, the United Nations said.

“I am personally extremely pleased to be here to announce that you have reached a very important milestone,” UN envoy Martin Griffiths told reporters on Sunday.

The Yemeni government, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, and the Houthi movement signed a deal to swap some 15,000 detainees in 2018, but the pact has been slowly and only partially implemented.

The two sides will now free 1,081 detainees and prisoners, Griffiths said in a joint news briefing with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) after a nearly 10-day meeting of the prisoners’ exchange committee held in the Swiss village of Glion above Lake Geneva.

Sources familiar with the talks and Houthi-run Masirah TV said the movement would release 400 people, including 15 Saudis and four Sudanese, while the coalition would free 681 Houthi fighters in the largest swap since peace talks in Stockholm in December 2018.

“I urge the parties to move forward immediately with the release and to spare no effort in building upon this momentum to swiftly agree to releasing more detainees,” Griffiths said.

ICRC Middle East director Fabrizio Carboni, sitting next to Griffiths, called on the two warring parties to provide “security and logistical guarantees” for swift releases. The ICRC team will interview those released and give them medical checks.In unilateral moves, the Houthis last year freed 290 prisoners and Saudi Arabia released 128, while a locally mediated swap in Taiz governorate saw dozens freed. In January this year, the ICRC facilitated the release of six Saudis held by the Houthis.The latest talks that started in an undisclosed location in Switzerland on September 18 aimed at agreeing to the release of 1,420 prisoners. Among them is the brother of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

But the release of General Nasser Mansour Hadi from the hands of the rebels “has been postponed”, according to a Yemeni government delegation member.

Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Houthis removed the internationally recognised government from power in the capital, Sanaa in late 2014, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene in March 2015.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, and sparked what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

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