Hard-won Yemen prisoner swap gets under way
A hard-won prisoner exchange between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels began Thursday with the departure from the rebel-held capital Sanaa of a planeload of freed soldiers, an AFP correspondent reported.
The exchange, agreed after a week of negotiations in Switzerland last month, involves the release of 1,081 prisoners over two days, the largest number since the conflict erupted in 2015.
Planes are also due to depart from the Yemeni government-held city of Seiyun and the Saudi city of Sabha in a complex operation overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross, rebel officials said.
UN envoy Martin Griffiths hailed it as a "very important milestone" when the agreement was struck after a week of talks in Switzerland last month.
A spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is handling the logistics of the operation, said their teams were present at a number of different airports involved in the transfer.
"The preparations are ongoing, if everything goes as planned, we hopefully expect the release operation to take place in the coming few hours," she told AFP on Thursday morning.
Al-Masirah television, which is controlled by the Houthis, said the first group of insurgent prisoners was expected to arrive on Thursday at the international airport in the rebel-held capital Sanaa.
The planned prisoner exchange comes after the release Wednesday of two Americans held captive in Yemen, in an apparent swap for some 240 Houthi supporters who were allowed to return home after being stranded in Oman.
The rebels also sent back the remains of a third American who died in captivity.