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Yemeni govt, rebels name 15,000 prisoners for swap

Updated December 12, 2018

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Stockholm: Representatives of the Houthi delegation (left) and those of the Yemeni government pose for a picture with officials from the UN Special Envoy’s office and the Red Cross during the peace talks.—AFP
Stockholm: Representatives of the Houthi delegation (left) and those of the Yemeni government pose for a picture with officials from the UN Special Envoy’s office and the Red Cross during the peace talks.—AFP

RIMBO: Yemen’s government and rival rebels agreed on Tuesday on a mass prisoner swap, exchanging more than 15,000 names, but warned that talks this week were unlikely to yield a truce.

Nearly four years into a war that has pushed 14 million Yemenis to the brink of mass starvation, the Saudi-backed government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Houthi rebels, linked to Riyadh’s arch-rival Iran, have been in UN-brokered talks since Thursday in the rural town of Rimbo in Sweden.

Mediators are pushing for a de-escalation of violence in two flashpoint cities: rebel-held Hodeida, a port city vital to the delivery of humanitarian aid, and Taiz, Yemen’s third largest city, scene of some of the most intense fighting of the war.

The rival parties have not yet agreed to UN proposed drafts on the two cities, which include the de-escalation of hostilities.

While the Sweden talks do not aim to broker an official ceasefire, a UN official on Tuesday confirmed a draft for a full “political framework” had been submitted to both parties. The official declined to give further detail.

The Sweden talks are the first meeting between the two parties in the Yemen conflict in more than two years.

The last round of talks, in 2016, collapsed after more than three months of negotiations.

Brokered by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths earlier this month, the prisoner swap was one of the main points — and the least contentious — at this week’s talks.

It is the largest prisoner exchange between the rival parties since the outbreak of the conflict between the rebels and the government, backed since 2015 by a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Askar Zaeel, a government negotiator on the prisoner swap, said the rebels had named 7,487 detainees whom they were willing to release. The government named 8,576 detainees, Zaeel said.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2018