Saudi-led coalition and Houthis exchange prisoners of war in Yemen

Move described as gesture of goodwill to 'build confidence' between opposing sides

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Two delegations from the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen have landed in the country and exchanged prisoners of war, the Saudi state news agency SPA has reported.

Coalition spokesman Brig Gen Turki Al Malki described Wednesday's move as a “goodwill initiative” that aims to “build confidence” as part of efforts to renew a UN-brokered truce that expired on October 2.

“This is a humanitarian visit that handles the detainee issue in a pure humanitarian approach,” Brig Gen Al Malki said.

He said it was made possible “as one of the gains of the truce and the efforts to extend it, in addition to further expanding its humanitarian, economic and livelihood gains for the Yemeni people and kick-starting the political process and reaching comprehensive peace in Yemen”.

Meanwhile, Abdulqader Al Mortada, head of the Houthi-aligned National Committee for Prisoners Affairs, said the list of PoWs was agreed on during negotiations in Amman.

“A technical team from the committee went to Saudi Arabia and a technical team from Saudi Arabia came to Sanaa to confirm the list of names,” he said.

Despite the truce expiring, several analysts told The National that it seemed to still be in place unofficially, even though there have been some skirmishes and a slight escalation in violence on the front lines since.

Jacob Al Sufyani, director of the Aden-based South24 Centre for News and Studies, called it a “truce of negotiations”.

Other indicators of efforts to ensure that Yemen does not return to all-out war are visits by international brokers to the region and bilateral meetings among allied nations.

Men sit together in an open-air market in Yemen's third city of Taez. Reopening roads and other transport links to the city have been a major issue in negotiations. AFP

On Wednesday, Saudi Minister of Defence Khalid bin Salman met his Yemeni counterpart, Lt Gen Mohsen Al Daeri.

Discussions centred around the UN-brokered truce “to alleviate the suffering of the fraternal Yemeni people” and the kingdom's efforts to “advance efforts made to end the Yemeni crisis”, SPA reported.

Also on Wednesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said efforts to renew the Yemeni truce were still in place. He added that his country supported the UN-brokered agreement.

Earlier this week, Diplomatic Adviser to the President Dr Anwar Gargash met UN Special Envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg in Abu Dhabi.

The US State Department also said that its envoy for Yemen, Tim Lenderking, would make a visit to the region to discuss the truce.

“The Houthis have an opportunity to support an expanded truce agreement that would provide millions of Yemenis with immediate relief,” the State Department said.

This would include “much-needed civil servant salary payments, opening roads to and through Taez and across the country, more flight destinations from Sanaa and a path to a durable, inclusive Yemen-led peace process, that includes Yemenis’ calls for justice, accountability and redress for human rights violations and abuses”.

“The truce remains the best opportunity for peace Yemenis have had in years. The United States and the international community stand ready to support an expanded truce,” it added.

Barbara Leaf visit

Also this week, the State Department announced a visit by Barbara Leaf, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs, who will discuss the “urgent need to secure a new, expanded truce agreement and political settlement in Yemen” with UAE officials.

Yemen is in its eighth year of conflict since the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Iranian-backed Houthis, prompting a Saudi-led coalition to intervene on behalf of the internationally recognised government.

Updated: October 13, 2022, 7:49 AM