Yemen prisoner exchange 'could involve up to 16,000'

Yemen prisoner exchange could involve up to 16,000: Red Cross
3 min read
19 December, 2018
Forty days after the Dec. 11 signing, the ICRC will have 10 days to interview those released and arrange their transfers, ICRC said.

The deal was brokered by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths [Getty]

A total of 16,000 names of people believed to be detained were exchanged between Yemen’s warring parties as part of a prisoner swap deal signed last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday.

Forty days after the Dec. 11 signing, the ICRC will have 10 days to interview those released and arrange their transfers, Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC regional director for the Middle East, told a briefing.

They are expected to include people detained outside Yemen and some foreigners held in the country, he said.

Two government officials, including one in the delegation at the talks in Sweden, told AFP that the list of names they requested released by the Huthi rebels included Saudi soldiers. Both requested anonymity. 

Between 1,500 and 2,000 members of pro-government forces and between 1,000 and 1,500 rebels would be released, according to Haig. 

On the government side, they include former defence minister Mahmoud al-Subaihi, who has been held by the rebels ever since they overran the capital in late 2014, and President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's brother Nasser, a general and former senior intelligence official.

Brokered by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths earlier this month, the prisoner swap deal was one of the main points at talks between the government and Houthi rebels in Sweden. 

Haid Haig, head of the governmental delegation tasked with the swap, told AFP the deal would be fully implemented by the end of January. 

"We agreed ... the deal would be complete within 48 days," Haig said. Asked when he expected the exchange to be complete, he replied: "In theory, in January."

Haig said the list of names should be "mutually handed over by end of day today."

The prisoner exchange was the only issue the rival delegations were confirmed to have met on face-to-face. 

Among the issues under discussion were potential humanitarian corridors, the reopening of the defunct Sanaa international airport, and Hodeida, the rebel-held city at the heart of an ongoing government offensive.

The prisoner swap has been met with the least amount of contention and the International Committee of the Red Cross will oversee the exchange.

The Sweden talks marked the first attempt in two years to broker an end to the Yemen conflict, which has killed more than 10,000 people - though rights groups say the actual figure is five times higher.

Yemen's government and the Houthi rebels have agreed to meet again in late January for more talks to define the framework for negotiations on a comprehensive peace settlement.

Some 14 million people are at imminent risk of starvation in Yemen, according to UN estimates.

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