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Yemen's warring sides agree prisoner swap

December 11, 2018

The agreement could be a major breakthrough in the four-year conflict that has brought Yemen to the brink of famine. Both sides have warned, however, that UN peace talks in Sweden are unlikely to result in a truce.

A man inspects a house destroyed by airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen
Image: picture-alliance/Photoshot/M. Mohammed

Yemen's government and the Houthi rebels have agreed to exchange more than 15,000 prisoners by January 20, the sides announced during UN-mediated peace talks in Sweden on Tuesday.

The government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition, said it has provided an initial list of 8,200 prisoners. The Shiite Houthi rebels, which are supported by Iran, gave a list of 7,487 detainees and prisoners.

Read more: Yemen: The devastating war waged with European weapons

UN officials at the talks in Rimbo, Sweden, called the exchange of lists "very impressive," although they noted the size of the lists could push the exchange beyond the January deadline. The lists will also undergo a four-week review to verify the names.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has confirmed it will oversee the exchange.

Tensions still remain over the plan to de-escalate violence in two flashpoint cities: rebel-held Hodeida, a port city vital to the delivery of humanitarian aid, and Yemen's third-largest city, Taiz, the scene of some of the most intense fighting. Warring parties are currently discussing a UN draft to reduce hostilities in Hodeida.

Although Tuesday's agreement 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.

UNICEF: Children need help now

Geert Cappelaere, a regional director with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) who is responsible for operations in Yemen, told DW that while he remains hopeful the peace talks will succeed, organizations currently on the ground urgently need help removing obstacles to the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

He also urged the international community to start planning on how to help Yemen once the conflict ends.

"What's very important at the end of this conflict is for the international community to reinvest massively in Yemen," Cappelaere told DW. "Unfortunately, Yemen has been governed with very little attention to the Yemeni people and definitely not to the Yemini children."

UNICEF has described the war in Yemen as a "living hell" for the millions of children living in the country, with 400,000 facing starvation and many suffering from malnourishment. The conflict has pushed the country to the brink of famine in what the UN has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The four-year war has killed more than 10,000 people, although the actual death toll is believed to be much higher.

rs/cmk (AP, AFP)

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