Prisoner swap deal gives new boost to Yemen talks push

AFP , Tuesday 4 Dec 2018

Yemen's government and the Houthi rebels said Tuesday they had agreed to swap hundreds of prisoners in another boost to UN efforts to convene new peace talks later this month.

The deal was swiftly welcomed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which will oversee the exchange after the first round of planned peace talks in Sweden.

The deal was struck by UN envoy Martin Griffiths, who was in the rebel-held capital Sanaa on Tuesday for meetings already buoyed by the evacuation of 50 wounded Houthi insurgent fighters for treatment in neutral Oman on Monday -- a key rebel precondition for the talks.

The envoy is seeking to convene peace talks in Sweden, perhaps as early as this week, after a previous attempt collapsed in Switzerland in September.

The United Arab Emirates, which is, along with Saudi Arabia, a key backer of the government, said the planned talks offered a "critical opportunity" to end nearly four years of devastating war.

Yemeni government official Hadi Haig told AFP that between 1,500 and 2,000 members of pro-government forces and between 1,000 and 1,500 rebels would be released.

On the government side, they include former defence minister Mahmoud al-Subaihi, who has been held by the rebels ever since they overran the capital in late 2014, and President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's brother Nasser, a general and former senior intelligence official.

Rebel official Abdel Kader al-Murtadha confirmed the deal, adding that he hoped it would be "implemented without problem".

ICRC spokeswoman Mirella Hodeib welcomed the agreement, saying: "This is one step in the right direction towards the building of mutual trust among Yemeni communities."

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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