Yemen prisoner exchange postponed three days as parties 'not ready', officials say
Abdul Qadir Al-Murtada, head of the Houthi rebels' Prisoners' Affairs Committee, said they were informed late on Friday by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is supervising the deal reached last month after talks in Switzerland, that it had been postponed by three days.
This was because Yemeni government officials in Marib province were "not ready" to start on the deal, al-Murtada said.
He accused the Yemeni government of deliberately postponing implementation of the deal, a practice he called "irresponsible" and "inhumane".
A Yemeni government official told Arabi 21 that it had been the ICRC who had asked for the extra three days for some "arrangements and interviews", dismissing the Houthis’ accusation.
The ICRC told The New Arab: "We understand that there may be questions regarding the delay in the upcoming detainee release operation in Yemen. The process for these operations involves multiple layers and can be quite complex, and more time was needed to complete the agreed-upon procedures before the start of the operations.
"The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is committed to playing its role as a neutral intermediary and is actively engaged in constant communication with all relevant parties to ensure that a future release operation is carried out in accordance with international humanitarian law.
"The ICRC appreciates all the collaboration shown by the parties thus far."
Yemen's internationally recognised government and the Houthi rebels agreed on 20 March to exchange prisoners and abductees. Murtada said at the time that 706 Houthi prisoners would be released, in exchange for 181 from the Yemeni government, including 15 Saudis and three Sudanese.
There have previously been prisoner exchanges between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, who have been at war since 2014.
A large-scale exchange mediated by the ICRC in 2020 included more than 1,000 prisoners and abductees from both sides.