SANAA: Yemen’s Huthi rebels and the internationally recognised government have agreed at talks in Switzerland to swap more than 880 prisoners, both sides said Monday as efforts accelerate to end the war. The agreed exchange comes after Saudi Arabia and Iran, who back opposing sides in the conflict, this month moved towards restoring diplomatic ties after a seven-year rupture.
“An agreement has been reached to implement a (prisoner) swap” that will see more than 880 people released in total, said Abdul Qader al-Murtada, the leading Huthi delegate to the talks in Bern, according to the rebel’s Al-Masirah TV channel. The exchange is set to take place within weeks, he said. The Huthis seized control of the capital Sanaa in 2014, prompting a Saudi-led intervention the following year and fighting that has left hundreds of thousands dead and caused one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
A UN-brokered ceasefire that took effect last April brought a sharp reduction in hostilities. The truce expired in October, though fighting largely remains on hold. Under the agreement, the Iran-backed Huthis will release 181 detainees, including Saudi and Sudanese nationals, in exchange for 706 prisoners, said Murtada, who heads the Huthi’s National Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs.
Sudanese soldiers have taken part in the Saudi-led coalition. “The swap will be implemented after three weeks,” Murtada said, noting there are plans for another round of prisoner-exchange talks in coming months. Majed Fadail, a member of the Yemeni government’s delegation, said that the Huthis would release former defence minister Mahmoud al-Subaihi and other officials, as well as four journalists.
A Yemeni government official, who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the press, said 15 Saudi citizens and three Sudanese nationals were among those to be freed. The Yemeni government welcomed the agreement in a statement released by the official Saba news agency, praising efforts by the UN and the ICRC to facilitate the deal.
The prisoner swap was announced after Hans Grundberg, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Yemen, last week noted “intense diplomatic efforts” to end the conflict. The negotiations in Switzerland, overseen by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), started earlier this month. The UN and the ICRC have yet to comment on the deal.
The latest closed-door negotiations mark the seventh meeting aimed at implementing an agreement on prisoner exchanges reached in Sweden five years ago. Under that deal, the sides agreed “to release all prisoners, detainees, missing persons, arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared persons, and those under house arrest”, held in connection with the conflict, “without any exceptions or conditions”.
The latest agreement comes a year after the Huthis said they had agreed to a prisoner swap that would see 1,400 rebels freed in exchange for 823 pro-government fighters—including 16 Saudis and three Sudanese nationals. In 2020, more than 1,050 detainees were released following an agreement reached by the warring parties, according to the ICRC.
During a Security Council meeting last week, UN officials said the detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran should offer momentum towards peace. However, it will not solve all the problems in Yemen, where the influence of the two regional powers is only one dimension of an increasingly complex conflict, analysts warn. – AFP