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Yemen’s warring parties agree prisoner swap at UN-brokered talks

Yemeni prisoners gesture after being released by the Saudi-led coalition upon arrival at the airport in Sana'a, Yemen, October 15, 2020. (File photo by AP)

Yemen’s National Salvation Government and the Saudi-sponsored administration of the ousted President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi have agreed at UN-brokered talks in Switzerland to swap more than 880 prisoners.

"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 delegate of the popular Ansarullah resistance movement to the talks in Bern, according to Yemen's al-Masirah news channel on Monday. The exchange is set to take place within weeks.

Under the agreement, Ansarullah will release 181 detainees, including Saudi and Sudanese nationals, in exchange for 706 prisoners, said Murtada, who heads the National Committee for Prisoners' Affairs. "The swap will be implemented after three weeks." 

Majed Fadail, a member of the Saudi-sponsored administration's delegation, said Ansarullah would release former defense minister, Mahmoud al-Subaihi, and other officials, as well as four journalists. At least 15 Saudi citizens and three Sudanese nationals were among those to be freed.

The negotiations in Switzerland, overseen by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), started earlier this month.

The latest negotiations mark the seventh meeting aimed at implementing an agreement on prisoner exchanges reached in Sweden five years ago.

The agreed exchange comes as UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg recently said momentum to end the war in Yemen had been renewed by a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran to resume ties.

During a briefing at the Security Council, Grundberg urged the warring parties to "seize the opportunity" to take decisive steps toward peace.

In a meeting with Grundberg in Tehran on Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian reaffirmed Tehran’s support for the continuation of the ceasefire and the end of the Saudi-led blockade on Yemen. He said Iran supports any dialogue which would help promote peace and stability in Yemen.

After several days of intensive negotiations hosted by China, Iran and Saudi Arabia finally clinched a deal to restore diplomatic relations and re-open embassies and missions within two months.

Former Saudi intelligence chief Turki al-Faisal recently expressed optimism that the agreement between Tehran and Riyadh will be a “game-changer” for West Asia.

Saudi Arabia and its allies launched the devastating war on Yemen in March 2015 with armed and logistical support from their Western partners, leaving hundreds of thousands of Yemenis dead. The war also displaced millions of people, rendering them homeless, while destroying the country’s infrastructure and spawning the contemporary age’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.

The most recent truce, which began in April 2022, had rekindled hopes of peace, but the Saudi-led coalition breached the terms of the ceasefire agreement, prompting Yemenis to continue resistance.

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