News ID: 274782
Published: 0254 GMT September 27, 2020

Yemen's warring parties agree on largest prisoner swap

Yemen's warring parties agree on largest prisoner swap

Yemen's warring parties agreed to exchange around 1,000 prisoners, including 15 Saudis, as part of trust-building steps aimed at reviving a stalled peace process, the United Nations and sources said on Sunday.

The Houthi movement and the former Yemeni government, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, that have been battling for over five years, signed a deal in late 2018 to swap some 15,000 detainees split between both sides but the pact has been slowly and only partially implemented.

The two sides will now free 1,081 detainees and prisoners, UN Envoy Martin 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, Reuters reported.

Heads of the two sides of the committee hugged at the end of their meeting, with Griffiths telling them: "Well done, well done."

Sources familiar with the talks and Al-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.

Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Western-backed coalition to intervene in March 2015 to restore a government that resigned in late 2014 and drive the Houthis out of the capital Sana’a. 

Griffiths is trying to restart political negotiations to end the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and caused what the United Nations describes as the world's largest humanitarian crisis with millions on the brink of famine.

"What matters to us is implementing the prisoners exchange and not just signing it," senior Houthi political official Mohammed Ali al-Houthi tweeted earlier on Sunday.

In unilateral moves, the Houthis last year freed 290 prisoners and Saudi Arabia released 128, while a locally mediated swap saw dozens freed. In January 2020, the ICRC facilitated the release of six Saudis held by the Houthis.



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