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UN: Yemen’s warring sides agree to swap more than 1,000 prisoners

Martin Griffiths, UN Yemen envoy, (C-right) and Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC regional director, (C-left) attend a meeting on the Implementation of the Prisoners' Exchange Agreement in Yemen, in Glion, Switzerland, on September 27, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

The warring sides in Yemen have reached a “milestone” agreement to swap more than 1,000 prisoners, as part of trust-building steps to revive stalled UN-brokered peace negotiations, the United Nations says.

The agreement was reached between Yemen’s popular Houthi Ansarullah movement and Saudi-led militants loyal to Yemen’s Saudi-allied former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

In a press conference on Sunday, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said he was “personally extremely pleased to be here to announce that you have reached a very important milestone.”

His remarks came shortly after a ceremony held in the Swiss village of Glion, where representatives of both sides agreed to release 1,081 prisoners as the largest prisoner swap since the Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen some five years ago.

The press conference, which was jointly held with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), came after a nearly 10-day meeting of the prisoners’ exchange committee held in the Swiss village.

“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 added at the presser.

He also congratulated both sides for renewing their “commitment to the full implementation of the Stockholm agreement”, a 2018 UN-brokered peace deal reached in Sweden to exchange some 15,000 prisoners.

The head of ICRC's Middle East and Near East operations, Fabrizio Carboni, for his part, urged the two warring sides in Yemen to provide “security and logistical guarantees” for swift releases, adding that the ICRC team would interview those released and would give them medical checks.

The ICRC would also oversee the return of detainees to their families, Carboni further said.

Earlier on Sunday, Mohammed-Ali al-Houthi, the chairman of Yemen’s Supreme Revolutionary Committee, tweeted that “What matters to us is implementing the prisoners (exchange) and not just signing it.”

Last year, the Houthis, in a unilateral move, released 290 prisoners of war and Saudi Arabia freed 128, while a locally-mediated swap in Yemen’s southwestern province of Ta’izz saw dozens released.

Back in January 2020, the ICRC, for its part, facilitated the release of six Saud nationals held by the Houthi fighters.

The new prisoner swap agreement is due to be implemented within the next two weeks, AFP quoted some unnamed sources as saying late Saturday.

The deal includes the release of 681 Houthi fighters and 400 militiamen loyal to Hadi, AFP further quoted an unnamed member of Hadi’s delegation in Glion talks as saying. The source also said that among those the Houthis are to release there are 15 Saudi nationals and four Sudanese.  

Griffiths stressed that “our overall aim at the moment is to bring an agreement on what we call a joint declaration which is a national ceasefire to end the war in Yemen.”

He also noted that the UN tries to lift the Saudi all-out siege of Yemeni ports, airports and roads through various measures “so that people can start to live a little.”

Since March 2015, Riyadh and a coalition of its vassal states, including the UAE, have waged a devastating war on Yemen in a futile attempt to reinstall a Saudi-friendly government, led by Hadi.

The invasion also aims to crush the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement, whose fighters have been of significant help to the Yemeni army in defending the country against the Saudi invaders.

The Western-backed war, which has been accompanied by a crippling all-out blockade of Yemen, has killed tens of thousands of people and afflicted the already-poorest Arabian Peninsula nation with the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” according to the UN.

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