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Two foreign nationals, an American and a Singaporean, who were believed to have been detained by Houthi rebels in Yemen have been freed. The two were evacuated to Muscat after mediation by Omani authorities.
The American, Casey Coombs, is a freelance journalist working for the Intercept news website. The identity of the Singaporean was not immediately clear.
"I can confirm that U.S. citizen Casey Coombs has departed Yemen and arrived in Muscat, Oman. He is in stable condition," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. Oman said that the evacuations were made inr coordination with the relevant Yemeni authorities.
Oman's official news agency ONA said the two American and Singaporean citizens were taken to Oman "in preparation for their return to their home countries."
Three additional US citizens, two of Yemeni and one of Somali origin, are still being held by the Houthis, an official in Sanaa said. Harf said the State Department is working to secure the release of the remaining Americans.
'Progress' in peace talks
Oman has been hosting talks between a US delegation and Houthi rebel envoys aimed at bringing an end to Yemen conflict, which erupted after the rebels seized the capital of Sanaa, forcing president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia. The conflict has claimed over 2,000 lives since March.
A Saudi-led coalition has been bombing rebel positions in Yemen for the last two months. Oman, which has often acted as mediator between Iran and the United States, is the only member of the six-nation Gulf cooperation council that has not joined the airstrikes against the Iran-backed Houthis.
Independent observers in Sanaa say the talks have had a positive effect, narrowing some differences between the Houthis and the exiled government and potentially paving the way for UN-backed talks in Geneva.
"There's progress in the talks toward an agreement on a long truce and reviving political dialogue," one politician speaking anonymously told news agency Reuters.
Initial plans for Geneva-based peace talks were scrapped over objections from the exiled Yemeni government, which demanded the Houthis leave Yemen's main cities and recognize Hadi's authority. The Houthis want a ceasefire as a precondition for talks.
bw/kms (AP, Reuters, AFP)