Yemen prisoner swap to begin on April 11, officials say

Country's former defence minister among top detainees set to be released by Iran-backed Houthis

From left, Abdul Qader Al Murtaza, the head of the Houthi delegation to the talks, Hans Grundberg, UN envoy for Yemen, and Yahya Mohammed Kazman, representing the Yemen government, in Geneva on Monday.  AP
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Yemen's government will exchange prisoners with the Houthi rebel group starting in early April, government officials told The National on Friday.

They praised Saudi Arabia's negotiations with the Houthis in pushing forward the negotiations.

The UN-led talks between Yemen’s internationally recognised government and the Houthi rebels have been going on for two weeks in Switzerland, led by Hans Grundberg, the UN's envoy for Yemen, and the International Committee for the Red Cross.

"The exchange, if everything goes to plan, will take place on April 11 and will see the release of 887 prisoners from both sides," Yemen's Deputy Human Rights Minister Majed Fadhil,, who is part of the negotiations committee, told The National.

The process will be carried out over three days and will take place in six different airports, he said.

The prominent detainees that will be released by the Iran-backed Houthis are Nasser Mansour Hadi, brother to Yemen's former president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, former defence minister Mahmoud Al Subaihi, and Mohammad Abdullah Saleh, brother to Yemen's vice president Tareq Mohammad Abdullah Saleh.

"Yemen's [former] defence minister will be transferred to Aden from Sanaa on the 11th April," Mr Fadhil said, adding if the process goes smoothly then "it will have a positive impact on the peace process".

The 887 detainees include 181 from the government side, with the remainder from the Houthi side, said Hamed Ghalib from Yemen's National Resistance, which is involved in the negotiations with the Houthis.

"The remaining include 23 Saudi nationals and three Sudanese civilians," he said.

"The talks have been taking place for years, really, ever since the Stockholm agreement of 2018. But the recent Saudi-Houthi talks helped achieve this exchange," Mr Ghalib said.

The detainees will first be transferred between Sanaa and Aden, then between Sanaa and Riyadh and lastly between Sanaa and Marib, he said.

"These detainees have been in captivity for nearly six years, without having any contact with their families and loved ones," Mr Ghalib said.

The meeting in the Swiss city of Bern this month was the seventh aimed at finding a deal on prisoner exchanges initially agreed in Sweden five years ago.

Under that deal, the sides agreed “to release all prisoners, detainees, missing persons, arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared persons, and those under house arrest” held in connection with the conflict, “without any exceptions or conditions”.

Mr Grundberg said, after the announcement of the deal, that it was one of several developments that gave reason to believe things were moving "in the right direction" and towards a resolution of the eight-year conflict that has left more than 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Updated: March 31, 2023, 1:44 PM