By Amal Al-Yarisi and Amr Mostafa
Cairo/Sana’a – Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Houthi rebels on Sunday agreed to release more than 1 000 detainees and prisoners as part of a swap deal, the United Nations said.
Delegates from both sides agreed to release a group of 1,081 conflict-related detainees and prisoners at the conclusion of talks in Switzerland, a joint statement by the office of the UN special envoy for Yemen and the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
In December 2018, Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and the Iran-allied Houthi rebels reached a deal to exchange about 16 000 prisoners as part of a ceasefire agreement made during UN-sponsored talks in Sweden. Both sides have since released dozens of prisoners.
“Today is an important day for over a thousand families who can expect to welcome back their loved ones hopefully very soon,” UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said.
Griffiths urged both sides to build on what he called a “very important achievement” to reach a negotiated solution to the longrunning conflict.
“Today is an important reminder to all of us and all those listening that all this is possible,” he added.
“We have no time to waste. Releasing the 1,081 individuals would and indeed will represent the largest release operation during the history of the conflict in Yemen,” he added.
The prisoner exchange will start in mid-October, a rebel official said later Sunday.
“The agreement to swap prisoners is considered an important step to break the ice after four rounds of negotiations on this file,” said Abdel-Qader al-Murtada, the head of a rebel committee in charge of prisoners of war.
He said the Houthis were ready for fully implementing the larger prisoner swap deal reached in late 2018, but claimed the government was unwilling, according to the pro-rebel television al-Masirah.
So far, there has been no official comment from the government.
Yemen has been embroiled in a devastating conflict between the government and the rebels since late 2014.
The feud intensified from 2015, when the Houthis advanced on the government’s temporary capital of Aden, prompting Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies to start an air campaign against the Shi’a group.