Red Cross making preparations for Yemen prisoner swap

The two planes being used in the operation are capable of carrying up to 200 people each

United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths is seen during a news conference at Johannesberg Palace, north of Stockholm, Sweden December 10, 2018. TT News Agency/Stina Stjernkvist via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. SWEDEN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SWEDEN
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The International Red Cross is preparing for a prisoner swap to move hundreds of detainees held by Houthi rebels and the internationally recognised Yemeni government, according to a statement released by the agency on Wednesday.

The prisoner swap will be done with two aircraft with a combined capacity of 400 passengers.

"We are preparing to provide medical assistance to detainees in need, and two planes, each with a capacity of 200 passengers, to shuttle detainees between Sanaa and Sayoun," Fabrizio Carboni, the regional director for the Near and Middle East for the ICRC, said in a statement seen by The National.

Sanaa is the capital of Yemen that Houthi rebels overran in 2015. Sayoun is a government-held city in the Hadhramaut region of central Yemen.

Yemen's warring sides exchanged lists of prisoners they want released in a confidence-building measure during talks in Sweden last month. They are still negotiating over the final list of names of prisoners they want to be released.


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The ICRC said it was aware of the difficulties of negotiating such a swap but the organisation called for both parties to finalise the names of prisoners as soon as possible.

"While these preparations are crucial for the success of the operation, they are meaningless efforts without the parties finalising the lists of detainees," Mr Carboni said.

Hopes for a large-scale prisoner swap have dwindled after three days of talks in Jordan failed.

The government accused the rebels of presenting a list of fake names.

Yemen’s Deputy Human Rights Minister Majed Fadhil said “the Houthis are continuously lying. They told us that some of the names that we provided were detained on criminal charges and some even belong to Al Qaeda, it’s all lies.”

“We don’t know where they got the names from,” Mr Fadhil said.

The swap could involve up to 15,000 people from both sides.

"The latest meeting of the Supervisory Committee in Amman allowed for further discussion on the exchanged lists of detainees, a process we hope sees progress in the coming days," Mr Carboni said.

The planned release will bring comfort to thousands of families who lost contact with or have been separated from their loved ones due to the conflict, he said.

The warring sides must submit written remarks on the lists provided, respond and sign the final versions before handing them to the United Nations and the Red Cross.

"We are at the final stage but there are still some gaps that need to be filled," said Haid Haig, the head of the government's prisoner committee.

The United Nations has been pushing for the swap and a peace deal in the main port city of Hodeidah to pave the way for a second round of talks aimed at ending the nearly four-year war that has killed tens of thousands of people.

“This is a crucial moment for Yemen and we must not let this opportunity slip away,” Mr Carboni said.

The development comes as the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, called on the international community to pressure to the Houthis to comply with the UN brokered peace deal.

“In Yemen it’s time for the international community to call a spade a spade; the Houthi militia is undermining the Sweden agreement & further progress towards peace. Addressing this reality is essential for all to move forward,” Dr Gargash wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the UN Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths departed Sanaa on Wednesday along with a retired Dutch General Patrick Cammaert who is heading a team that is monitoring a ceasefire in Hodeidah.

The officials are expected to meet Yemen’s President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi and military leaders in Riyadh.

A Yemeni government official told The National that the rebels are pressuring the general to resign from his position.

“Houthi militias are putting pressure on the United Nations envoy to replace General Cammaert, to ensure the that his mission in Hodeidah and the UN peace deal collapses,”  the official said.