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Yemen's warring sides agree huge prisoner swap

December 19, 2018

The ICRC will have 10 days to arrange transfers of the prisoners under the deal signed by Houthi rebels and Yemeni government. The exchange is likely to include detainees held outside the country.

Houthi militants patrol a street in Hodeidah, Yemen
Image: Reuters/A. Zeyad

The Yemen government and the Houthi rebels have agreed to release 16,000 detainees under the deal signed last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced on Wednesday.

The government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, and the Shiite Houthi rebels, which are supported by Iran, exchanged lists with the names of detainees.

Read more: Yemen conflict: 5 million children face famine

The lists will be subject to a four-week review to verify the identities of individuals named. Starting from January 21, the ICRC will have 10 days to arrange transfers of those released.

It is "highly probable" that they will include people detained outside Yemen, as well as some foreigners held in the country, Fabrizio Carboni, the regional director for the Near and Middle East for the ICRC, told a briefing.

The ICRC is to act "as a neutral intermediary and provides technical support" to facilitate the transfer. The organization has been in direct contact with the respective detention authorities and has had access to some of the detained individuals.

Representatives of the Red Cross have verified the conditions of detention and helped establish contacts between the detainees and their families.

Although the deal reached on December 11 marks a big step for the Yemen peace talks, both sides have warned that an agreement on a ceasefire is not likely to happen during this round.

"We hope this agreement helps build the confidence needed for a political solution to the conflict in Yemen," Fabrizio Carboni said.

The Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, have been locked in a power struggle with the Saudi-backed Yemeni government since late 2014, when the rebels took hold of the capital Sanaa.

Direct talks took place previously in 2015 and 2016, but both attempts were unsuccessful. The UN special envoy Martin Griffiths had attempted to bring the two sides together for UN-sponsored talks in Geneva in September of this year, but the rebels failed to appear. 

International aid group Oxfam said Wednesday that more than half a million displaced people in Yemen face the "double threat" of famine and low temperatures. Some 530,000 people are in mountainous areas, many of them living in makeshift shelters with no insulation or weatherproofing.

Yemen's war has left at least 10,000 people dead and generated the world's worst humanitarian crisis. International pressure has mounted for the two sides to end the conflict. The United States has called for a ceasefire and reduced some of its logistical aid for the Saudi coalition, while Iran has also signaled support for the talks.
ev/rc (Reuters, AP)

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