Warring parties in Yemen agree on major prisoner trade: UN

United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths (C) and International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer (L) attend a new round of talks by Yemen’s warring parties on prisoners swap on Feb. 5, 2019 in Amman. (AFP)
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Updated 16 February 2020

Warring parties in Yemen agree on major prisoner trade: UN

  • Griffiths urged both parties to move forward with the agreed-upon prisoner exchange
  • It is a sign that talks to end the disastrous war could be making progress

CAIRO: Yemen’s warring sides have agreed to implement a long-delayed and major prisoner swap, the United Nations said on Sunday, in a sign that talks to end the disastrous war between the country’s internationally recognized government and the Houthi militia could be making progress.
It would be the “first official large-scale” exchange of its kind since the beginning of the conflict, according to the UN
The prisoner swap deal was seen as a breakthrough during 2018 peace talks in Sweden. The Iran-backed Houthis and the internationally recognized government agreed then to several confidence-building measures, including a cease-fire in the strategic port city of Hodeidah.
Implementation of the tentative peace plan stumbled amid ongoing military offensives and a deep-seated distrust between the two sides.
The UN mission in Yemen said that both the Yemeni government and the militia had decided to “immediately begin with exchanging the lists for the upcoming release” of prisoners. Sunday’s statement came after seven days of meetings between the two sides in Jordan’s capital, Amman.
“Today the parties showed us that even with the growing challenges on the ground, the confidence they have been building can still yield positive results,” the UN envoy Martin Griffiths said.
The talks were co-chaired by Griffiths’ office and the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC.
Griffiths urged both parties to move forward with the agreed-upon prisoner exchange “with the utmost sense of urgency.” He did not elaborate when they would start the exchange.
Franz Rauchenstein, the head of the ICRC in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, welcomed the step as “encouraging.”
“Today, despite ongoing clashes, we saw that the parties have found common humanitarian ground that will allow many detainees to return to their loved ones,” Rauchenstein said.
The war in Yemen has also spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical shortages. It has killed over 100,000 people, including fighters and civilians, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, which tracks violence reports in Yemen.
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdel-Salam said they would release 1,400 prisoners including Saudis and Sudanese.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdullah Al-Hadrami said he welcomed the “phased agreement” to release prisoners, in a tweet Sunday.
The breakthrough in talks came after another weekend of violence in Yemen.
The renewed clashes threatened to overshadow the hopes raised by back-channel talks in the Gulf state of Oman between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis.
The talks focus on interim agreements, such as re-opening Yemen’s main international airport in Sanaa. In a sign of progress, two United Nations flights ferrying dozens of seriously ill Yemenis abroad for treatment took off last week from the militant-held capital, the first since the start of the air blockade.
The conflict in the Arab world’s poorest country erupted in 2014, when the Iran-allied Houthis seized the capital and much of the country’s north. An Arab coalition, established to restore the authority of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Hadi’s government, launched a military intervention months later.


Lebanon’s leaders face rage, calls for reform after blast

Updated 5 min 39 sec ago

Lebanon’s leaders face rage, calls for reform after blast

  • State media reported late Thursday that security forces fired tear gas in central Beirut to disperse dozens of anti-government demonstrators
  • Some protesters were injured

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s leadership faced growing rage after a massive explosion laid waste to large parts of central Beirut, with security forces firing tear gas at demonstrations late Thursday as international leaders called for reform.
Shock has turned to anger in a traumatized nation where at least 149 people died and more than 5,000 were injured in Tuesday’s colossal explosion of a huge pile of ammonium nitrate that had languished for years in a port warehouse.
To many Lebanese, it was tragic proof of the rot at the core of their governing system, which has failed to halt the deepest economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war and has plunged millions into poverty.
State media reported late Thursday that security forces fired tear gas in central Beirut to disperse dozens of anti-government demonstrators enraged by the blast.
Some in the small protest were wounded, the National News Agency reported.
Earlier, visiting French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to lead international emergency relief efforts and organize an aid conference in the coming days, promising that “Lebanon is not alone.”
But he also warned that the country — already in desperate need of a multi-billion-dollar bailout and hit by political turmoil since October — would “continue to sink” unless it implements urgent reforms.
Speaking of Lebanon’s political leaders, Macron said “their responsibility is huge — that of a revamped pact with the Lebanese people in the coming weeks, that of deep change.”
The International Monetary Fund, whose talks with Lebanon started in May but have since stalled, warned that it was “essential to overcome the impasse in the discussions on critical reforms.”
The IMF urged Lebanon — which is seeking more than $20 billion in external funding and now faces billions more in disaster costs — “to put in place a meaningful program to turn around the economy” following Tuesday’s disaster.
Macron’s visit to the small Mediterranean country, a French protectorate during colonial times, was the first by a foreign head of state since the disaster.
The French president visited Beirut’s harborside blast zone, a wasteland of blackened ruins, rubble and charred debris where a 140-meter-wide (460-foot-wide) crater has filled with seawater.
As he inspected a devastated pharmacy, crowds outside vented their fury at the country’s “terrorist” leadership, shouting “revolution” and “the people want an end to the regime!.”
Later Macron was thronged by survivors who pleaded with him to help get rid of their reviled ruling elite.
Another woman implored Macron to keep French financial aid out of the reach of Lebanese officials, accused by many of their people of rampant graft and greed.
“I guarantee you that this aid will not fall into corrupt hands,” the president pledged.
Macron later told BFMTV he was not presenting Lebanon’s leadership with a “diktat” after some of the political class criticized his remarks as interference.
Compounding their woes, Lebanon recorded 255 coronavirus cases Thursday — its highest single-day infection tally — after the blast upended a planned lockdown and sent thousands streaming into overflowing hospitals.
The disaster death toll rose from 137 to 149 on Thursday evening, the health ministry said, and was expected to further rise as rescue workers kept digging through the rubble.
Even as they counted their dead, many Lebanese were consumed with anger over the blast.
“We can’t bear more than this. This is it. The whole system has got to go,” said 30-year-old Mohammad Suyur.
The small demonstration on Thursday night, as well as a flood of angry social media posts, suggested the disaster could reignite a cross-sectarian protest movement that erupted in October but faded because of the grinding economic hardship and the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab and President Michel Aoun have promised to put the culprits responsible for the disaster behind bars.
A military prosecutor announced 16 port staff had been detained over the blast.
But trust in institutions is low and few on Beirut’s streets hold out hope for an impartial inquiry.
Amid the fury and gloom, the explosion’s aftermath has also yielded countless uplifting examples of spontaneous solidarity.
Business owners swiftly posted offers to repair doors, paint damaged walls or replace shattered windows for free.
Lebanon’s diaspora, believed to be nearly three times the tiny country’s five million population, has rushed to launch fundraisers and wire money to loved ones.
In Beirut, volunteers handled much of the cleanup.
Husam Abu Nasr, a 30-year-old volunteer, said: “We don’t have a state to take these steps, so we took matters into our own hands.”