Yemen government and Houthi rebels resume prisoner swap talks

Two sides exchanged 1,000 detainees last year but many remain in detention or have disappeared

epa08950877 A Yemeni soldier keeps watch during an anti-US protest in Sana’a, Yemen, 20 January 2021. According to reports, US Secretary of State Tony Blinken has pledged to immediately review the US terrorist designation of Yemen's Houthi movement a day after Donald Trump’s government designated it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).  EPA/YAHYA ARHAB
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Yemeni officials met Houthi rebel representatives in Amman on Sunday to negotiate the expansion of a prisoner swap last year in which thousands stayed in jail or vanished.

One source at the talks in the Jordanian capital told The National that the two sides have started discussions on 300 names, after releasing more than 1,000 prisoners in October last year.

“The focus is on journalists and very ill people,” the source said.

The government is pushing for the release of Naser Mansur Hadi, the brother of Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, former defence minister Brig Mahmoud Al Subaihi and other senior figures.

Abdel Qader Al Murtada, head of the Houthi delegation, tweeted on arriving in Amman on Saturday that he hoped “for success for this round and the release of the largest number of prisoners from all sides”.

The talks are being supervised by UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths, whose office is in Amman, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The two warring sides have submitted lists with names of 15,000 detainees they want freed and accused each other of delays.

Mr Griffiths said priority should be given to “all sick, wounded, elderly and children detainees, as well as all arbitrarily detained civilians”.

Over two days in October, the ICRC flew 1,056 released prisoners between cities in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, in accordance with a deal between the government and the Houthis made in Montreux, Switzerland.

Several prisoner swaps have been concluded between the two sides, with the Montreux deal the first under the 2018 Stockholm peace agreement.

Masses of people, both combatants and civilians, have been jailed or disappeared since the start of the Yemeni civil war in late 2014.

Among them are 1,605 people who have been arbitrarily detained and 770 cases of forced disappearance “by all parties to the conflict”, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say.

Yemen was one of the poorest Arab countries even before the outbreak of the civil war.

The main conflict is between the internationally recognised Yemeni government and other forces in a Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-aligned Houthis, who overran the capital Sanaa in 2014.

Al Qaeda is also a powerful player in the country.