Yemen: Warring parties agree on prisoner swap

Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels agree to release half of the prisoners held by either side.

Yemenis call for the release of alleged Saudi-held prisoners
Protesters have called on both the Yemeni government and its Saudi ally, as well as the Houthi rebels to release their prisoners [EPA]

Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels have agreed to free half of the prisoners and detainees held by either side in the first breakthrough of the peace talks that began last month.

Officials from the two delegations have said that a working group formed by the UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed had reached an agreement on Tuesday to release the prisoners and detainees within 20 days.

“It was agreed during the meeting to release 50 percent of the prisoners and detainees within the next 20 days,” said Mane al-Matari, media adviser to Yemen’s foreign minister who heads the government delegation.

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A source close to the Houthi rebel delegation also said an agreement had been reached, describing it as “an exchange of prisoners”.

The government’s official news agency Saba also confirmed the deal, citing the official delegation.

The UN envoy said the two sides were expected to finalise the agreement on Wednesday.

“They agreed in principle to explore a proposal to release 50 percent of all detainees held by each side ahead of the holy month of Ramadan and eventually release all detainees,” said Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

“They agreed to continue discussions in the next session scheduled for May 11,” he said in a statement.

Al-Matari estimated that the number of prisoners is in the “thousands” but the rebel source said there may be only hundreds involved.

There has been mounting international pressure to end the Yemen war, which the UN estimates has killed more than 6,400 people and displaced 2.8 million since March last year.

Following a two-day interruption, the two delegations resumed face-to-face talks on Monday after mediation efforts and an appeal by the UN envoy.


Two other working groups, spanning military, security and political issues, also discussed on Tuesday more complicated issues.

The rebels have demanded the formation of a consensus transitional government, while the delegation of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi continues to insist that he is the legitimate head of state, sources close to the talks said.

Ahmed al-Asiri, spokesman of the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting in Yemen on behalf of Hadi’s government, told Egyptian Dream television late on Monday that if peace talks in Kuwait were to fail, the coalition “will storm the capital Sanaa and decide the battle in Yemen” by military means.

The talks follow two failed peace attempts in June and December last year in Switzerland.

The Houthis exchanged prisoners with Saudi Arabia in March after unprecedented talks mediated by tribes along the frontier, where dozens have been killed in cross-border shelling.

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Source: AFP