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Yemen warring parties agree to release hundreds of prisoners on each side

More than 10,000 have been killed in the war [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 December, 2018

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Hundreds of prisoners will be exchanged as part of a deal between Yemen's Saudi-backed government and the Houthi rebels ahead of planned peace talks in Sweden.

Yemen's Saudi-backed government and the Houthi rebels have agreed to exchange hundreds of prisoners ahead of planned peace talks in Sweden, sources said on Tuesday.

The deal, struck during a visit by UN envoy Martin Griffiths, covers between 1,500 and 2,000 members of the pro-government forces and between 1,000 and 1,500 rebels, government official Hadi Haig told AFP.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it "welcomes the agreement between Yemeni parties for the release, transfer and repatriation of conflict-related detainees".

"This is one step in the right direction towards the building of mutual trust among Yemeni communities," spokeswoman Mirella Hodeib told AFP, adding that the ICRC would oversee and facilitate the exchange.

A Saudi-led coalition has been waging a war in Yemen since March 2015 to push back the Houthis and restore to power President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, who lives in Saudi exile.

The UN hopes to bring the two sides together for peace talks this month.

According to Hadi Haig, the prisoner swap will be implemented after the round of negotiations in Sweden.

On Tuesday, the UAE's state minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash said proposed UN-led talks in Sweden mark a "critical opportunity" to bring peace to war-torn Yemen after four years of conflict.

"We believe Sweden offers a critical opportunity to successfully engage in a political solution for Yemen," Gargash said in a tweet.

He added that "a sustainable Yemeni-led political solution offers the best chance to ending the current crisis."

The comments from the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the pro-government coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen, came as UN envoy Martin Griffiths is in the rebel-held capital Sanaa seeking to push forward the planned talks.

"Evacuating wounded Houthi fighters from Sanaa once again demonstrates the Yemeni government & the Arab coalition's support for peace," Gargash said in a tweet.

Fifty wounded rebels left on a UN-chartered plane Monday for neutral Oman to be treated, in what was termed "a confidence-building" measure ahead of any talks.

The evacuation marked a key step in kickstarting stalled negotiations as world powers press for an end to the devastating conflict.

Saudi Arabia and its allies had agreed the 50 wounded combatants, 50 escorts and a team of Yemeni and UN doctors could be flown out to Muscat - a condition set by the Houthis for negotiations.

The Houthis have also called for guarantees for their safety if they leave the country - a key condition which led to the collapse of earlier talks planned for September in Geneva.

The conflict in Yemen, which erupted in late 2014, has brought the impoverished country to brink of famine, and the UN has described Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian disaster. 

More than 10,000 people are said to have been killed since the Saudi-led pro-government coalition intervened in the conflict in early 2015, according to the World Health Organisation, although human rights groups are adamant that the actual toll is far higher.

No date has yet been set for the talks, which are due to be held in Sweden, but hopes have been building that they could go ahead this week.

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