In the largest prisoner swap: Yemen gov’t and Houthis agree to exchange prisoners
Yemen’s warring parties have agreed to exchange some 1,000 prisoners, including 19 Saudi soldiers, at United Nations-sponsored talks as part of trust-building steps aimed at reviving a stalled peace process, sources said on Sunday.
“I am personally extremely pleased to be here to announce that you have reached a very important milestone,” UN envoy Martin Griffiths told reporters on Sunday.
The Yemeni government, backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, and the Houthi movement signed a deal to swap some 15,000 detainees in 2018, but the pact has been slowly and only partially implemented.
“What matters to us is implementing the prisoners (exchange) and not just signing it,” senior Huthi political official Mohammed Ali al-Huthi tweeted early on Sunday.
Sources familiar with the talks and Houthi-run 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.
Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Houthis removed the internationally recognised government from power in the capital, Sanaa in late 2014, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene in March 2015.
The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, and sparked what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Riyadh launched informal talks with the Houthis late last year for a ceasefire as it seeks to exit a costly war ahead of hosting a summit of the Group of 20 nations in November.