Yemen govt, Houthis swap names of 15,000 prisoners at UN talks

Yemeni police troopers stand guard at a door of the UN offices during a protest calling for the reopening of Sanaa airport to receive medical aid, in front of the UN offices in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, Dec. 10, 2018. (AP/Hani Mohammed)
Updated 12 December 2018
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Yemen govt, Houthis swap names of 15,000 prisoners at UN talks

  • A source in the government delegation said their side had released the names of 8,200 detainees
  • The Houthi militia announced that the names of a total of 15,000 detainees and prisoners had been exchanged

RIMBO, Sweden: Yemen’s government and rival militia announced Tuesday plans for a mass prisoner swap, exchanging some 15,000 names, as UN-brokered talks on ending the country’s war entered their seventh day.
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 militia, linked to Iran, began talks Thursday in the rural town of Rimbo in Sweden. The talks are expected to last a week.
The Houthi militia announced that the names of a total of 15,000 detainees and prisoners had been exchanged. A source in the government delegation said their side had released the names of 8,200 detainees but declined to comment on the combined total.
The militia and government have agreed to a 45-day deadline for the exchange, sources in both delegations said.
Prisoners will be flown out through two airports: government-held Seyoun, in central Yemen, and the rebel-held capital Sanaa, home to an international airport that has been largely shut down for three years.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has confirmed it will oversee the exchange.
The Sweden talks are the first meeting between the two parties in the Yemen conflict, which pits the Iran-backed Houthis against the Hadi government, allied with a regional military coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
Brokered by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths earlier this month, the prisoner swap was one of the main points -- and the least contentious -- at this week’s talks.
Griffiths told reporters on Monday the prisoner swap would be “very, very considerable in terms of the numbers that we hope to get released within a few weeks”.
The prisoner exchange was the only issue the rival delegations were confirmed to have met on face-to-face.
Among the other issues under discussion are potential humanitarian corridors, the reopening of the defunct Sanaa international airport, and Hodeidah, the Houthi-held city at the heart of an ongoing government offensive.

The UN said on Monday it was seeking $4 billion to provide humanitarian aid to some 20 million Yemenis next year — or about 70 percent of the war-stricken country’s population.

Each year, the world body needs an additional billion dollars, UN Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said.

A donors’ conference backed by Sweden, Switzerland and the UN is set to take place on Feb. 26 in Geneva.

“We didn’t have a cessation of hostilities,” although the violence appears to have decreased, added Lowcock, who recently traveled to the country, expressing hope for a positive outcome to peace negotiations taking place in Sweden between the parties under UN auspices.

He denounced obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian aid, noting that Yemen also needs help to bring its economy back from the brink.

“Hodeidah port is crucial” for humanitarian aid, Lowcock said, referring to the flashpoint city at the heart of negotiations in Sweden. The Yemeni government, which is backed by Saudi Arabia and its military allies, has been battling the Iran-backed Houthi rebels for control of Yemen for nearly four years, spawning what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.


Security tops agenda as Iraqi PM visits Egypt in first foreign trip

Updated 23 March 2019
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Security tops agenda as Iraqi PM visits Egypt in first foreign trip

  • After meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Abdul Mahdi highlighted “the importance of drying up the sources of terrorism”
  • The visit to Egypt is Abdul Mahdi’s first trip abroad since taking office in October

CAIRO: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi sought Egypt’s support for efforts to tackle extremist militants in the region during a visit to Cairo on Saturday, his first trip abroad since taking office in October.
After meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Abdul Mahdi highlighted “the importance of drying up the sources of terrorism” and said “cooperation between Egypt and Iraq will be essential for this matter,” according to an official statement.
His comments came as US-backed forces said they had captured Daesh’s last shred of territory in eastern Syria at Baghouz, ending its territorial rule over a self-proclaimed caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq after years of fighting.
Though the defeat ends the group’s grip over the extremist quasi-state that it declared in 2014, it remains a threat.
Some Daesh fighters still hold out in Syria’s remote central desert and in Iraqi cities they have slipped into the shadows, staging sudden shootings or kidnappings and awaiting a chance to rise again.
The United States thinks the group’s leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, is in Iraq.
Defeating militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and restoring security after years of unrest has been a key promise of El-Sisi, the general-turned-president who came to power a year after the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Mursi in 2013.
Egypt has fought an insurgency waged by a Daesh affiliate in North Sinai since 2013. Hundreds of members of the security forces have been killed.