Yemen government, Houthi rebels agree to prisoner swap

Feb. 16 (UPI) -- The two sides of Yemen's civil war have agreed to a long-delayed, large-scale prisoner swap plan, the United Nations said Sunday amid heightened fighting between the internationally recognized Yemeni government and Houthi rebels.

The United Nations said the plan will be the first "large-scale exchange of prisoners" between the two sides since the war began in 2015. It did not disclose the number of prisoners who would be exchanged.


The United Nations said the agreement was made following a seven-day meeting completed Sunday in Amman, Jordan.

It was the third such round of deliberations since the two warring sides agreed to the exchange of prisoners under their Stockholm Agreement of 2018 that raised hopes that the war may eventually reach a peace settlement.

Following the completion of the meeting on Sunday, both parties decided to "immediately begin with exchanging the lists for the upcoming release," the United Nations said.

"I urge the parties to move forward with the exchange they agreed on today with the utmost sense of urgency," U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said in a statement. "Progress has been too slow on this front. The pain of the thousands awaiting reunion with their loved ones must end. Today, the parties showed us that even with the growing challenges on the ground, the confidence they have been building can still yield positive results."

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The meeting was chaired by the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The two sides also renewed their commitment to allow conflict prisoners to contact their families in accordance with international humanitarian law, the United Nations said, continuing that another meeting is planned to convene in late March to further discuss the exchanges.

Franz Rauchenstein, head of the ICRC in Sana'a, said the agreement was "very encouraging" and that he hoped it would lay the groundwork for further prisoner swaps.

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"Today, despite ongoing clashes, we saw that the parties have found common humanitarian ground that will allow many detainees to return to their loved ones," he said. "This shows that only the parties themselves have it in their hands to bring about positive and lasting change."

The agreement comes a day Houthi rebels claimed to have shot down a Saudi-led coalition jet and two days following the United Nations saying as many as 31 civilians were killed and 12 others were injured in airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition on northern Al-Jawf province.

"SO many people are being killed in Yemen -- it's a tragedy and it's unjustified," said Lise Grande, U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen. "Under international humanitarian law, parties which resort to force are obligated to protect civilians. Five years into this conflict and belligerents are still failing to uphold this responsibility. It's shocking."

The two factions have been at war since the Iran-backed Houthi rebels ousted the internationally recognized Yemeni government in 2015.

The conflict has since been on a downward spiral that has devolved the Middle Eastern country into the world's worst humanitarian crisis, displacing 3.3 million people across the country, according to data from the United Nations.

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