Yemeni government and Houthis agree to release hundreds of detainees

Yemeni government and Houthis agree to release hundreds of detainees
Yemenis greet their freed relatives during a prisoner exchange ceremony between the Houthis and government forces in Taiz. (AFP/File)
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Updated 21 March 2023

Yemeni government and Houthis agree to release hundreds of detainees

Yemeni government and Houthis agree to release hundreds of detainees
  • UN envoy Hans Grundberg said the prisoner exchange is one more reason to be optimistic that things are finally moving in the right direction in Yemen
  • He added that he senses there is now a greater will to resolve the conflict, following the recent Saudi-Iranian rapprochement

NEW YORK CITY: The Yemeni government and the Houthis on Monday agreed to release 887 detainees, following 10 days of negotiations in Geneva, the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

They added that both sides have also agreed to visit each other’s detention facilities, grant the delegations full access to all detainees during those visits, and to meet again in May to discuss further prisoner swaps.

Hans Grundberg, the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, described the deal as one more reason to believe things are moving “in the right direction” toward a resolution of a conflict that has ravaged the country for more than eight years and caused one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world.

“For hundreds of Yemeni families, today is a good day,” said Grundberg. “Unfortunately, Yemen doesn’t experience as many good days as it deserves. So, I warmly congratulate all involved for this achievement. Today, hundreds of Yemeni families can look forward to reuniting with their loved ones.

“But it is important to remember that when the parties committed to the Detainees’ Exchange Agreement they made a promise, not just to each other, but to thousands of Yemeni families who have been living with the pain of separation from those dearest to them for far too long.”

Referring to the announcement on March 10 of the resumption of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Grundberg added that he senses there is now “a willingness to engage in a positive direction on trying to come to a settlement on the conflict in Yemen.”

During a UN Security Council meeting last week, Grundberg welcomed the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran and said the region was witnessing a “step change in the scope and depth” of talks to end the long-running conflict in Yemen.

At the same time, he urged all those involved in the conflict to seize the opportunity offered by this “renewed regional diplomatic momentum” and take “decisive steps toward a more peaceful future.”

On Monday, he said a “comprehensive and sustainable end to the conflict is necessary if Yemen is to recover from the devastating toll the eight-year conflict has had on its men and women.”

According to a message posted on Twitter by the head of the Houthis’ prisoner affairs committee, Abdul Qader Al-Murtada, and the militia’s chief negotiator, Mohammed Abdulsalam, the Houthis have agreed to release 181 detainees, including 15 Saudis and three Sudanese nationals, in exchange for 706 prisoners held by the Yemeni government. The exchange will take place in three weeks, they added.

“It’s an expression of hope, it’s an expression of humanity and it indicates the way ahead for all parties to the conflict,” said Fabrizio Carboni, the International Committee of the Red Cross’s regional director for the Middle East, who was sitting between representatives of the two delegations on Monday.

The talks, which took place near the Swiss capital, Bern, were the latest in a series of meetings under the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement, which previously led to the release of prisoners in 2020 and 2022.

Grundberg thanked the Swiss government for hosting the negotiations, and Jordan for hosting a number meetings of the supervisory committee.

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