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Yemen prisoner swap to start Friday as peace hopes rise

By AFP - Apr 12,2023 - Last updated at Apr 12,2023

SANAA — An exchange of nearly 900 prisoners from Yemen's civil war will start on Friday, one day later than previously announced, a government official said on Wednesday.

The biggest prisoner swap since 2020 is taking place after a delegation from Saudi Arabia, which launched a military intervention in 2015, held talks with Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels this week in an attempt to end hostilities.

Nearly 900 prisoners, most of whom were fighting with Houthi rebels, will be flown between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, which leads the military coalition fighting on behalf of the ousted government, the official said on Tuesday.

The Houthis will release 181 prisoners, including Saudis and Sudanese, in exchange for 706 detainees held by government forces, according to an agreement reached last month in Switzerland.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by direct and indirect causes in a war that left many on the brink of famine in a country which was already the poorest in the Arabian Peninsula.

"It has been confirmed that the exchange process will start on Friday morning," tweeted Majid Fadael, spokesman for the government delegation negotiating the exchange.

The prisoner transfers “will last for three days, starting on Friday and ending on Sunday”, said Fadael, revising the timetable he announced on Tuesday.

The Houthis are releasing 181 prisoners, including Saudis and Sudanese, in exchange for 706 detainees held by government forces, according to an agreement reached last month in Switzerland.

Yemen has been at war since a Houthi advance in 2014 saw them seize the capital Sanaa, leading the Saudi-led coalition to intervene in March 2015 to support the ousted, internationally recognised government.

The Saudi ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed Al Jaber, flew to Sanaa for talks with the Houthis this week, saying he wanted to work towards a “political solution” to the conflict.

But Houthi government sources, speaking anonymously as they are not authorised to brief media, downplayed hopes of reaching agreement by next week, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“The talks between the Saudi delegation and the Houthis did not reach a final result yet to complete an agreement that was expected to be signed at the end of Ramadan,” a source told AFP, information that was confirmed by another official.

“The Saudis presented their vision of a solution and wanted to be mediators in resolving the crisis alongside the Omanis, but the Houthi political and religious leaders insisted that Riyadh be a party to the agreement and not an intermediary,” the source added.

The uptick in diplomacy and optimism follows last month’s landmark announcement that heavyweight rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran will resume ties, seven years after an acrimonious split.

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