An official Yemeni source in the legitimate government confirmed it has been agreed with the Houthis to exchange more than 1,000 prisoners from each party. The international community is hoping the move will be the beginning of the end of the war in Yemen.
US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told the BBC that the Houthis have released two American hostages in what appears to be part of the prisoners’ exchange deal.
US officials confirmed the release 14 October of Sandra Loli, a humanitarian worker held captive by the Houthis for three years, and businessman Mikael Gidada, held for one year. The Houthis sent the remains of a third hostage, Bilal Fateen, to the US.
The Wall Street Journal reported the US State Department was working to close the deal in the nearest time possible due to the deterioration of Loli’s health. The newspaper added the deal included delivering medical aid to Yemen.
Deutsche Welle said the exchange of hostages was slated for 15 October but was delayed for one day.
The agreement to exchange hostages was executed under the auspices of the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen. The International Committee of the Red Cross facilitated the exchange process and its technical procedures.
The deal was implemented in accordance with five principles.
First, the parties agreed to release all prisoners, detainees, missing persons, arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared persons, and those under house arrest. Second, each party shall hand over prisoners held whether they are Yemeni or from Arab Coalition countries. Third, no party shall have the right to refrain from extraditing any person who was arrested.
Fourth, all parties are obliged not to exclude any person who was imprisoned, arrested, detained or captured for any reason. Fifth, in the event that any detainees are found not released after the exchange process, all parties are obliged to release them immediately and unconditionally.
The reporter of Yemen’s Window who was present during the exchange process at Aden International Airport wrote that one of the hostages shocked the Red Cross International Committee when he refused to board the plane to Sanaa a few moments before take-off.
The unnamed hostage told the Red Cross he didn’t want to go to Sanaa because the militias will force him and others to return to the battleground. He tried to convince the committee to replace him with another detainee, but the committee refused in order not to violate the agreement. The website reporter continued that many of those detained by the Houthis had lost contact with their families after their field leaders refused to call their families to reassure them on their wellbeing.
A Houthi hostage by the name of Haal Abdallah Hussein, 28, was released to find his wife had married his brother and that the Houthis had pronounced him dead a year earlier when he was held captive by the legitimate government since 2017.
Meanwhile, Yemeni media platforms were rife with speculation over how the new Iranian Ambassador Hassan Eyrlou had entered Sanaa, the land, air and maritime paths to which are blocked by the Arab Coalition. Accusing fingers had pointed to plane of UN Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths. Griffiths’ office refuted the claim, saying the UN didn’t organise any flight to Sanaa since 5 October, reported Yemen’s Window.
The legitimate government said “appointing an Iranian military ruler in Sanaa” and allying with the Houthis are moves that will not be recognised.
The Yemen Net website reported that the Yemeni Foreign Ministry had said “smuggling an Iranian element into Sanaa is in violation of international law and UN Security Council 2216.”
Amid all of Yemen’s developments, the general public are fighting their greatest war to find food, medical care and education for their children, and above all they are fighting to remain alive.
The Houthis are manipulating jobs, and salaries are paid only if the employee is favoured by the Houthis. On the other hand, the legitimate government is striving to make some wages available.
The Yemeni citizen is the victim of the ongoing war of currencies between the internationally recognised government and the Houthis. A Yemeni employee receives an average of 50,000 riyals every 45 days. In the region controlled by the legitimate government, the dollar hiked to 835 riyals for selling and 828 riyals for buying, which means the Yemeni employee receives about $50 every month and a half.
In areas under Houthi control, the dollar is sold for 613 riyals and bought for 611.5 riyals. In case of exchanging currencies from a legitimate government area to a region controlled by the Houthis, the transfer commission is set at 40 per cent. In case of transfers the other way around, the commission is set at 3-4 per cent.
Sweden’s Ambassador in Yemen Niclas Trouvé said conditions in Yemen remain dangerous and the humanitarian situation is extremely worrying. He added that Sweden is ready to host political consultations, stressing that more humanitarian windows should be opened in Yemen and that the only way to resolve the crisis peacefully is through a political settlement.
The war raging in Yemen for six years has claimed 12,000 civilian lives, including hundreds of women and children, according to UN estimates.
There are also 3.3 million displaced people and more than two-thirds of the Yemeni population are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.
The UN has described the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as the world’s worst.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly