Yemen, Houthis agree to prisoners' release

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden


Head of the Houthi prisoner exchange committee Abdulkader al-Murtada (centre left) shakes hands with head of the Yemeni government delegation Hadi Haig between ICRC director for the Near and Middle East Fabrizio Carboni and UN special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths at the end of a week-long meeting on a Yemen prisoner exchange agreement on September 27th in Glion, Switzerland. [Fabrice Coffrini/AFP]

Yemen's government and the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) are set to release 1,081 prisoners over the next two weeks, in accordance with the Stockholm Agreement, after reaching agreement on a list of names.

The office of UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Sunday (September 27th) announced the two sides had signed the first phase of a prisoner exchange agreement.

The agreement concludes talks that kicked off September 18th in Switzerland, under the auspices of the UN and the ICRC.

Griffiths hailed the decision to release the prisoners as the largest such operation during Yemen's conflict, AFP reported.

He also congratulated the government and the Houthis for renewing their "commitment to the full implementation of the Stockholm agreement".

The ICRC is to oversee the return of detainees to their families.

Arab coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki said the coalition had "a positive view of the agreement".

Meanwhile Fabrizio Carboni, head of the ICRC's Middle East and Near East operations, described the agreement as "a very positive step".

"This release will alleviate the suffering of many detainees and many families who have been waiting for so long to be reunited," he said.

"We are convinced that this release... will contribute to renew solid, valid peace talks."

Griffiths urged the two sides to "move forward immediately with the release and to spare no effort in building upon this momentum to swiftly agree on releasing more detainees until all detainees, including the four who were included under UN Security Council Resolution 2216, have been released".

Carboni said both sides must "continue with the same urgency towards agreeing on a concrete plan so this operation can move from signatures on paper to a reality on the ground".

Yemen government welcomes accord

Yemen's government welcomed the agreement and called for it to be implemented without delay.

"The government is keen on implementing all the agreement provisions without selectivity or severability," said Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Hadhrami.

He noted that "most of those who we asked to be released are civilians, activists, and forcibly disappeared persons".

The agreement includes the release of 681 Houthis and 400 pro-government forces, among them 15 Saudis and four Sudanese, a member of the government delegation told AFP.

"The two sides agreed to hold another round of negotiations in late October to discuss the release of remaining prisoners, including the four included under the UN Security Council resolution," said Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez.

"The agreement will be implemented and the prisoners will be released by mid-October," he said.

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