Yemen war rivals say prisoner swap deal clinched

Yemen war rivals say prisoner swap deal clinched
A major prisoner swap between Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government has been agreed.
2 min read
10 December, 2018
Houthi delegates at the talks last week (AFP)

A mass prisoner swap between Yemeni rebels and the government, a key issue at UN-brokered peace talks in Sweden, has been finalised, both sides said Monday.

Brokered by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths earlier this month, it is one of the main points at talks between the government and Houthi rebels in Sweden this week. 

Griffiths told reporters Monday the prisoner swap was well underway, adding that he hoped it "will be very very considerable in terms of the numbers that we hope to get released within a few weeks".

Haid Haig, head of the governmental delegation tasked with the swap, told AFP the deal would be fully implemented by the end of January. 

"We agreed ... the deal would be complete within 48 days," Haig said. Asked when he expected the exchange to be complete, he replied: "In theory, in January."

Haig said the list of names should be "mutually handed over by end of day today."

An advisor to the Houthi rebels in Sweden confirmed the list of names would be completed by Monday. 

"There might be an announcement of dates," he told AFP on condition of anonymity. 

Nearly four years into a war that has pushed 14 million Yemenis to the brink of mass starvation, the Saudi-backed government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and Houthi rebels, linked to Riyadh's arch-rival Iran, began talks Thursday in the rural town of Rimbo, Sweden. 

UN officials expect the talks will last a week.

The prisoner exchange was the only issue the rival delegations were confirmed to have met on face-to-face. 

Among the issues under discussion are potential humanitarian corridors, the reopening of the defunct Sanaa international airport, and Hodeida, the rebel-held city at the heart of an ongoing government offensive.

The prisoner swap has been met with the least amount of contention and the International Committee of the Red Cross will oversee the exchange.

Between 1,500 and 2,000 members of pro-government forces and between 1,000 and 1,500 rebels would be released, according to Haig. 

On the government side, they include former defence minister Mahmoud al-Subaihi, who has been held by the rebels ever since they overran the capital in late 2014, and President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's brother Nasser, a general and former senior intelligence official.