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Yemen-Houthi prisoner swap imminent: UN envoy

SANA'A, Yemen - The office of Martin Griffiths, the United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen, said Monday that arrangements are ongoing for new negotiations on a prisoner exchange deal between the legitimate government and the Houthi militia.

In a statement to Anadolu Agency, the office said there are plans to “set an appropriate date” for discussions on the exchange of prisoners, adding an announcement will be made once “the arrangements are finalized.”

Last month, the Houthis and the Yemeni government exchanged 1,081 prisoners, including 15 Saudis and four Sudanese, following a joint statement on the deal by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN announced on Sept. 27 in Geneva.

The prisoner swap was the largest since the beginning of the war in 2014.

In December 2018, Yemeni government representatives and Houthi rebel leaders held a round of UN-brokered talks in Stockholm which yielded a cease-fire agreement and the swapping of prisoners in the Red Sea port city of Al-Hudaydah.

The exact number of prisoners held by both sides is unknown, especially considering that more people have been captured from both sides since the signing of the agreement.

The UN office said Griffiths has been engaged in shuttle diplomacy for several months to encourage both sides to stick to negotiations and to issue a joint declaration.

On Nov. 11, Griffiths told the UN Security Council in a briefing that he is “becoming convinced that perhaps this [series of discussions] is exactly what is needed in the case of the joint declaration itself, an opportunity for the parties to explain to each other their positions and together to reach the compromises needed.”

The joint declaration is a draft of a UN initiative that Griffiths presented last March to the government and the Houthis to resolve the conflict which was subject to amendments, the most recent of which was this month.

The initiative included a comprehensive cease-fire, the resumption of political consultations, and the release of all prisoners and detainees.

Yemen has been engulfed by violence and chaos since 2014, when Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including the capital Sana’a.

A Saudi-led coalition launched in 2015 aimed at reinstating the Yemeni government has worsened the situation, causing one of the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis as millions are on the brink of starvation.


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