Yemen. Hundreds of prisoners of war freed in a vast exchange


Two weeks after signing an agreement on a prisoner exchange, as part of the peace talks, Yemen’s government and rebel forces released dozens of soldiers.

More than 300 prisoners of war in Yemen were released Friday, April 14, 2023, on the first day of a vast exchange between enemy camps, announced the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in complete negotiations on a truce in the country.

Yemen has been the scene of a conflict since 2014 between the government, supported by Saudi Arabia, and the Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, who have seized large swaths of the country’s territory, including the capital Sanaa.

At the end of March, the government and the rebels had agreed in Switzerland to exchange nearly 900 prisoners, including Saudis, against an unexpected warming of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Sixty-nine people flew from Sanaa to Aden, the government’s interim capital in the south of the country, on Friday, and 249 others flew the other way on the first day of an operation due to end on Sunday, the ICRC said In a press release.

According to this organization, the exchange will continue early Saturday with at least two flights between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. A total of 16 Saudi prisoners and three Sudanese soldiers are expected in Riyadh on Saturday.

“Double Party”

In Sanaa, dozens of prisoners descended from a plane, raising their fists in victory.

Among the many people gathered, Yahia Abou Korra said he had been waiting for his son’s return “for five years.” And as the end of Ramadan celebrations approaches next week, he is looking forward to this “double celebration.”

In Aden, cheers rang out as former defense minister Mahmoud al-Subaihi and the former president’s brother, General Nasser Mansour Hadi, stepped out of a plane. The latter then went to Riyadh, where his brother lives.

The last operation of this scale dates back to October 2020, when more than 1,000 prisoners were released.

The UN envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, welcomed the start of the exchange while recalling that “thousands of other families are still waiting to be reunited.”

The war in Yemen has caused one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, in the context of epidemics, lack of drinking water, and acute hunger. More than three-quarters of the population depends on international aid, which continues to decline.

“Hundreds of families torn apart by conflict will be reunited for Ramadan, bringing a beacon of hope amid great suffering,” said Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC director in the Middle East.

Quoted in the press release, he expressed the hope that “these releases give an impetus for a broader political solution.”

The American administration also welcomed the exchange of prisoners. “We encourage all parties to consolidate these positive steps and reach […] a diplomatic solution,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said according to a rebel official, a Saudi delegation left Sanaa with a “preliminary agreement” for a truce and the promise of “new talk on Thursday.

“Positive conversations”

Discussions in Sanaa were “positive” with “progress on some issues,” Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdelsalam said on Twitter.

According to Yemeni government sources, the talks are about a six-month truce paving the way for three months of negotiations on a transition that will last two years, during which the final solution will be negotiated between all the parties. Parts.

The truce must make it possible to meet the two main demands of the Houthis: the payment by the government of the salaries of civil servants in the rebel areas and the reopening of Sanaa airport, controlled by Saudi aviation.

Last year, the parties observed a six-month truce. Although it was not officially renewed after its expiry in early October, the situation remained relatively calm.

“Only the parties’ unconditional release of all civilian and non-civilian prisoners will show a serious commitment to peace,” said Nadwa Dawsari of the Middle East Institute think tank.

The March agreement was concluded after a warming of relations between the two heavyweights of the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, which oppose various issues, and sometimes even by interposed camps as in Yemen.