UN envoy confirms Yemen's warring sides agree to release 887 detainees

Aden, Mar 21 (IANS): UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg confirmed that the country's warring sides have agreed to release 887 conflict-related detainees as they concluded a 10-day negotiation in Switzerland.

In a joint statement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Grundberg said on Monday that the Yemeni parties also agreed to meet again in May to discuss future releases and to conduct joint visits to each other's detention facilities, reportsXinhua news agency.

The UN envoy welcomed the agreement and commended the Yemeni parties for their compromises, expressing his hope for an end to the suffering of all Yemenis who are still waiting to be reunited with their loved ones.

He also encouraged the parties to release additional detainees on a unilateral and ongoing basis.

Daphnee Maret, ICRC head of delegation in Yemen, called the agreement a "crucial step" to end the suffering of separated families and build confidence between the parties.

She confirmed that ICRC stands ready to continue its role as a neutral intermediary in facilitating humanitarian visits, contributing to the re-establishment of family links, and supporting the release, transfer, and repatriation of conflict-related detainees.

Earlier in the day, officials from Yemen's internationally-recognized government and the Houthi group said the two sides reached an agreement to release over 880 prisoners.

"We have now concluded the round of negotiations on the issue of prisoners and abductees in Berne, Switzerland. The deal includes more than 880 prisoners and abductees," Majid Fadail, a member of the government's negotiation team, said in a statement posted Monday on Twitter.

The official stated the deal included the release of four journalists sentenced to death by the Houthis, several prisoners of war from the Saudi-led coalition engaged in the ongoing civil war, and relatives of some senior Yemeni officials.

Nasser Mansour, the brother of former Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, was also on the swap list, Fadail said.

Abdulkadir al-Murtada, head of the Houthi prisoner committee, said the swap agreement comprises 706 Houthi members and 181 prisoners from the opposing side.

The 181 detainees include 15 Saudi citizens and three Sudanese nationals from the Saudi-led coalition, according to the report.

"The deal was agreed to be implemented within the next three weeks," al-Murtada said, adding that the deal was the first step towards an all-for-all exchange agreement.

If implemented, the swap deal would be the largest of its kind in more than two years after the warring sides made a successful swap in October 2020 of more than 1,000 prisoners.

The negotiations in Switzerland, which began last week, aimed to facilitate the exchange of prisoners and political detainees between the Yemeni government and Houthi militia under the auspices of the UN.

The UN-sponsored agreement was seen as a positive step toward a broader peace agreement, though it remained unclear whether it would lead to a wider ceasefire or lead to new negotiations to put an end to the years-long military conflict.

Yemen has been mired in a civil war since late 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthi militia seized control of several northern provinces and forced the Saudi-backed government out of the capital Sanaa.

The war has killed tens of thousands of people, displaced 4 million and pushed Yemen to the brink of starvation.



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Title: UN envoy confirms Yemen's warring sides agree to release 887 detainees

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