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Yemen warring sides in 'final' talks on prisoner swap deal

By AFP - Sep 16,2020 - Last updated at Sep 16,2020

DUBAI — Yemen's warring sides will meet in Geneva on Thursday for UN-sponsored talks on the final touches of a deal to release more than 1,400 prisoners, sources on the two sides said.

The internationally recognised government, supported by a Saudi-led military coalition, and the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels agreed to exchange some 15,000 detainees as part of a peace deal brokered by the United Nations in Sweden in 2018.

The two sides have made sporadic prisoner swaps, but the release of 1,420 people — if it materialises — will mark the first large-scale prisoner trade since the war erupted in 2014.

Members of the government's committee for prisoner affairs said that 900 loyalists will be released in exchange for 520 insurgents.

"The meeting will address the release of the first batch of prisoners, 1,420 people from the two sides," Majed Fadael, a member of the committee, told AFP on Wednesday.

A government source close to Yemen's presidency said that the talks in Geneva will "lay out the final touches" after agreement was reached with the International Committee of the Red Cross "on all logistical arrangements".

He added that General Nasser Mansour Hadi, brother of Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, along with 19 Saudis and other politicians and journalists, will be among those released.

A former senior intelligence official, he has been held by the rebels ever since they overran the capital Sanaa in late 2014.

Meanwhile, officials in the Houthi-held north of Yemen said that the head of their committee for prisoner affairs Abdulqader Al Mortada had arrived in Switzerland ahead of the planned meeting.

UN special envoy Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Tuesday that he expected “to see the parties this week in Switzerland to continue their discussions on the implementation of prisoner exchanges”.

The development comes after Franz Rauchenstein, head of the ICRC delegation in Yemen, confirmed to AFP in August that the two sides were in talks about a “quite considerable” prisoner exchange.

The Yemen conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, and sparked what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

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