ICRC urges continuation of 'peace building' between Houthis, Yemen government amid prisoner swap deal
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has urged warring parties in Yemen to "continue their peace efforts" following a landmark exchange of prisoners on Friday, which saw over 300 Yemenis return home on Friday.
The organisation's operations coordinator for the Near and Middle East, Anukha Combernous, hailed the exchange as "precious and emotional", in a media briefing on Friday.
The ICRC said that the prisoner release deal is "part of a bigger initiative" in the peace process, currently ongoing between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition.
Laughs, tears, accolades & yearning pulsed through airports in #Yemen today.— Fabrizio Carboni (@FCarboniICRC) April 14, 2023
On this first day, 318 detainees were brought back home. Hundreds of families will have their loved one back in time for #EidUlFitr.
The impact of the release operations facilitated by @ICRC is HUGE. pic.twitter.com/agViY2Wymo
"We really hope beyond the direct impact [this] might have for the people released and their families, [that] this will show that there is no way back to violence," said Fabrizio Carboni, the charity’s regional director for the Near and Middle East said.
Carboni added that the prisoner release - which saw 318 detainees reunited with their loved ones on Friday - gives "sense of momentum to what has already been happening over the last two weeks," in refence to the Omani-brokered Saudi delegation visit to Sana'a to negotiate a possible long-term ceasefire in the war-torn country on 9 April.
"An end to the fighting will help reduce the human suffering so many Yemenis have endured in recent years," he stressed.
Years of conflict have taken its toll on the Yemeni people, killing more than 150,000 people - mostly civilians - and triggering what the UN has described as one the world's worst humanitarian disasters.
A further 500 detainees are expected to be returned on Saturday, while the Red Cross said it hoped that they would help release more detainees in the future, as well as make progress on retrieving information on any of those who went missing or disappeared during the conflict.
Detainees, according to Carboni, must be willing to go back home, fit to fly as well as have "guaranteed safety at home".
The prisoners’ release is likely to build confidence measures between the Houthi rebels, the Yemeni government as well as the UN, with the release giving impetus to renewed diplomatic efforts to reach an agreement on a long-term ceasefire, and an end to Saudi military involvement in the country’s years-long war.
The talks concluded on Friday, having been "serious and positive", said Mohammed Abdul-Salam, the chief Houthi negotiator.
Talks between the Saudis and Houthis also came as Riyadh hosted a delegation from Iran earlier this week, paving the way for the re-opening of their diplomatic missions as the countries end their seven-year-long dispute.