Yemen warring parties agree to 15,000 detainee prisoner swap

Yemen warring parties agree to 15,000 detainee prisoner swap
Both of Yemen's warring parties have submitted names of prisoners they want releasing from the rival side.
3 min read
12 December, 2018
Yemen's warring parties have agreed to a major prisoner swap [Getty]

Yemen's warring parties have agreed to a prisoner swap of more than 15,000 detainees by 20 January, a member of the rebel delegation has said.

It is one of the first major breakthroughs in the four-year-old conflict that has killed thousands of people and left millions more facing hunger.

Officials of the internationally-recognised government - led by President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi - and Iran-backed Houthi rebels said at news conferences in Sweden that they have exchanged prisoner lists.

The lists will be reviewed over four weeks, ahead of a final swap to be facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the representatives said.

An agreement was reached earlier this month to exchange prisoners held by both sides.

The government has provided the UN mediators with an initial list of 8,200 prisoners allegedly held by the Houthis.

The government list included members of the family of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was killed by the Houthis in December 2017. Among the list are 300 children and 88 women.

The Houthis provided its own list of prisoners held by the government.

"The Houthis provided a list of 7,487 captives and detainees. We provided a (list) of 8,576 detainees," said Askar Zouail of the government delegation. "But the number of detainees (held by the rebels) exceeds 18,000 detainees since the beginning of the war" in March 2015.

While UN officials at the talks called the exchange of prisoner lists "very impressive", the sheer size of the swap could possibly delay the 20 January deadline.

Othman Mujali, who is agriculture minister in the Hadi government, said both sides are looking at the best way to implement this swap.

"We hope the other side is serious. For us, we are serious and ready at the moment," he said.

Houthi representative Abdul-Qader el-Murtaza said the government list includes prisoners from member countries in the coalition, including Sudan and the UAE.

He said 20 January was set a final date for the prisoner swap overseen by the Red Cross.

A period of four weeks was set for any questions and for verification of the prisoners' names, "then there will be ten days for the Red Cross to prepare logistic and technical matters for the transfer and exchange of the prisoners", Murtaza said.

The UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said "we can handle the logistics" with partners.

"If this can be achieved, that certainly is a positive step forward," he told reporters at UN headquarters in New York.

"Any measures that involve increasing the amount of trust and confidence that's built up can, we believe, help achieve a lasting resolution to this conflict."

Martin Griffiths, the UN's Yemen envoy, told reporters in Sweden on Monday that he was encouraged by "the positive and serious spirit" both sides have demonstrated in the talks.

Also on Tuesday it was announced that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres would hold meetings with the government and Houthi delegations and address Thursday's closing session of the current round of talks.

The Houthi rebels took over the capital Sanaa in 2014, sparking a civil war, which intensified after the intervention of the Saudi-led coalition in 2015.

The war has killed at least 10,000 people, though the figure is believed to be higher, and turned Yemen into one of world's worst humanitarian crises with 22 million of its 29 million people in need of aid, according to the UN.