UN: Warring Parties in Yemen Agree on Major Prisoner Trade
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Yemen’s warring sides agreed to implement a long-delayed and major prisoner swap, the United Nations said, in a sign that talks to end the disastrous Saudi-led war against the impoverished Arab country could be making progress.
It would be the “first official large-scale” exchange of its kind since the beginning of the war against the Arab world's poorest country, according to the UN, AP reported.
The prisoner swap deal was seen as a breakthrough during the 2018 peace talks in Sweden. The Houthi Ansarullah movement and the former government agreed then to several confidence-building measures, including a cease-fire in the strategic port city of Hudaydah.
Implementation of the tentative peace plan stumbled amid ongoing attacks by the Riyadh regime.
The UN mission in Yemen said that both the Houthis and ex-government had decided to “immediately begin with exchanging the lists for the upcoming release” of prisoners. Sunday's statement came after seven days of meetings between the two sides in Jordan’s capital, Amman.
“Today the parties showed us that even with the growing challenges on the ground, the confidence they have been building can still yield positive results,” the UN envoy, Martin Griffiths, said.
The UN mission did not disclose specific numbers for the expected prisoner exchange.
Houthi official Abdul-Qader el-Murtaza said in a tweet that the first phase of the deal includes the release of more than 1400 prisoners from the two sides. He said talks would continue for another two days to “prepare and revise the final lists.”
The talks were co-chaired by Griffiths’ office and the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC. Representatives from the Saudi-led coalition also attended the talks, the UN said.
Griffiths urged both parties to move forward with the agreed-upon prisoner exchange “with the utmost sense of urgency.” He did not elaborate when they would start the exchange.
Franz Rauchenstein, the head of the ICRC in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, welcomed the step as “encouraging.”
“Today, despite ongoing clashes, we saw that the parties have found common humanitarian ground that will allow many detainees to return to their loved ones,” Rauchenstein said.
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdusalam said Saudi and Sudanese prisoners would be included in the release from his side.
The breakthrough in talks came after Saudi jets bombarded residential areas in the mountainous northern Yemeni Jawf province. Strikes on Saturday killed more than 30 civilians, said the UN humanitarian chief for the country, calling the attack “shocking.”
The strikes came after Yemen’s air force units shot down a coalition warplane over Jawf.
Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating campaign against Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing the government of fugitive former president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi back to power and crushing the Houthi Ansarullah movement.
The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the war has claimed more than 100,000 lives over the past nearly five years.
The UN says over 24 million Yemenis are in dire need of humanitarian aid, including 10 million suffering from extreme levels of hunger.