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.


Sudan police tear gas protesters ahead of parliament march

Updated 20 January 2019
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Sudan police tear gas protesters ahead of parliament march

  • Video clips circulating online show hundreds of security forces in Khartoum and more heading to nearby Omdurman
  • Longtime ruler Omar Al-Bashir insists there will be no change of leadership except through the ballot box

KHARTOUM: Sudanese police fired tear gas on Sunday at protesters ahead of a planned march on parliament in Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum, witnesses said.

Demonstrators chanting “freedom, peace and justice” began gathering in some areas of Omdurman but were quickly confronted by riot police with tear gas, the witnesses said.

Deadly protests which erupted on December 19 after a government decision to raise the price of bread have turned into nationwide rallies against President Omar Al-Bashir’s three decade rule.

Officials say at least 26 people, including two security personnel, have died during a month of protests, while rights group Amnesty International last week put the death toll at more than 40.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, an umbrella group of trade unions that is leading the ongoing protest movement, called for fresh demonstrations on Sunday and several days over the coming week.

“We are calling for a march to parliament in Omdurman on Sunday,” it said in a statement.

“The protesters will submit to parliament a memorandum calling on President Bashir to step down,” added the association, which represents the unions of doctors, teachers and engineers.

Over the past month, protesters have staged several demonstrations in Omdurman.

The SPA said there will also be rallies in Khartoum on Sunday, to be followed by night-time demonstrations on Tuesday in the capital and in Omdurman.

“And on Thursday there will be rallies across all towns and cities of Sudan,” the statement added.