March 21 (UPI) -- The warring sides in Yemen's nearly decade-old conflict have agreed to a prisoner swap involving nearly 900 detainees, officials said, as hopes rise that the ongoing truce may eventually lead to an end of the war.
The prisoner exchange was announced Monday in Switzerland by the United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grunberg and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The swap involves 887 conflict-related detainees, though officials citing the sensitive nature of the situation would not state how many were being released by either the Iran-backed Houthi rebels or the internationally recognized government of Yemen.
"Today, hundreds of Yemeni families can look forward to reuniting with their loved ones," Grunberg said during a press conference.
The announcement comes as the grim nine-year anniversary since the war began in September 2014 when Shiite Houthi rebels seized control of Yemen's capital city of Sanaa nears.
Since the start of the conflict, Yemen has been devastated. The United Nations has long described the country as the world's worst humanitarian conflict as more than 20 million of its some 33 million people are in need of assistance. Millions have been internally displaced and more than 16 million suffer from hunger, including 5 million facing famine.
However, the prison swap occurred amid a nearly yearlong that truce that was first agreed to in April of last year and as hopes climb that further agreements, such as the one inked Monday, could bring about an official end to the war.
The prisoner swap on Monday was announced at the completion of a 10-day meeting of the supervisory committee on the implementation of the detainee's exchange agreement of the Stockholm Agreement.
Signed in December of 2018, the Stockholm Agreement consists of three components the warring sides committed to working on, including the creation of a prisoner exchange mechanism.
Monday's announcement ended the prison swap committee's seventh meeting with plans for the officials to reconvene in May to discuss more releases, the United Nations said.
Grunberg added that the two sides also committed to joint visits of each other's detention facilities.
"For the one's knowing conflict, for the one's knowing Yemen, they know how important it is for the families and for the people of Yemen," Fabrizio Carboni, the regional director for the international Committee of the Red Cross, told reporters during a press conference on the significance of Monday's announcement
"It's an expression of hope, it's an expression of humanity and it indicates the way ahead for all parties to the conflict."
The release of the prisoners has not yet occurred, and Carboni said his organization stands ready to work as an intermediary to ensure the detainees are aware of what is occurring and that they are able to return to their homes.
"Obviously to do this work, the ICRC teams will need free and unfettered access to the detainees, especially in the coming days and weeks so that we can conduct interviews in private," he said. "This allows us to gather the informed consent to be transferred and identify any special needs that they have."
There is more work to do and further negotiations are need to secure the release of more detainees, he said.
The White House on Monday said it welcomes the announcement of the prisoner swap.
"This important step builds on the positive environment created by a truce in Yemen that has effectively stopped the fighting for the past 11 months," National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement. "Over the past year and thanks to active and persistent U.S. diplomacy, Yemen has seen the lowest level of violence since the war began over a decade ago.
"We remain committed to building on this work to advance a durable resolution to the conflict."
The two sides have exchanged prisoners before with 1,056 exchanged in 2020 and 117 in May.
U.N. officials did not say how many detainees remain jailed by the warring sides.