Yemen warring parties agree on massive prisoner swap

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Yemen’s fugitive former government and Houthi movement agreed to free half of the prisoners and detainees held by both sides, in the first breakthrough in peace talks that began last month.

Officials from the two delegations told AFP on Tuesday that a working group formed by the UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, had reached an agreement to release the prisoners and detainees in 20 days.

The news agency Saba confirmed the deal, citing the official delegation.

The UN envoy said the two sides were expected to finalize the agreement Wednesday.

“They agreed in principle to explore a proposal to release 50 percent of all detainees held by each side ahead of the holy month of Ramadan and eventually release all detainees,” Cheikh Ahmed said.

“They agreed to continue discussions in the next session scheduled for May 11,” he said in a statement.

The issue was discussed as part of confidence-building measures.

“It was agreed during the meeting to release 50 percent of the prisoners and detainees within the next 20 days,” said Mane al-Matari, media adviser to Yemen’s foreign minister heading the fugitive former government delegation.

A source close to the Houthi delegation also said an agreement had been reached, describing it as “an exchange of prisoners.”

The two sides would meet again Wednesday to finalize the mechanism on how and when the exchange will take place, Matari said. Matari estimated that their number is in the “thousands,” but the Houthi source said there may be only hundreds of prisoners involved.

Following a two-day interruption, the two delegations resumed face-to-face talks Monday after mediation efforts and an appeal by the UN envoy.

Two other working groups, spanning military, security and political issues, also discussed Tuesday more complicated issues.

Those issues include implementing a UN Security Council resolution which orders the Houthis to pull out of territory they captured in a 2014 offensive and surrender heavy arms they captured.

Cheikh Ahmed described the discussion as “constructive” as “common grounds” emerged but acknowledged differences were still substantial.

By Tasnim News Agency