In largest prisoner swap, Yemen foes release dozens in Taez

Sunday 12/06/2016
Local initiative unconnected to peace talks in Kuwait

TAEZ (Yemen) - Yemen's warring parties exchanged dozens of prisoners captured in fighting for third city Taez on Saturday following mediation by local tribes, the chief mediator said.

Saudi-backed government forces which control the city released 118 prisoners, while Iran-backed rebels who control most of the surrounding province freed 76, tribal chief Abdullatif al-Muradi said.

Loyalist officials in the besieged city confirmed the exchange and said it was a local initiative unconnected to UN-brokered peace talks in Kuwait.

Those negotiations, now in their ninth week, have made no major breakthroughs, even on the prisoners issue.

Earlier this month, the rebels released 187 prisoners while Saudi Arabia freed 52 children it was holding.

But that was far short of the target set by UN mediators for 50 percent of all prisoners to be released before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The peace talks have also had little impact on the fighting for Taez despite a UN-brokered ceasefire that took effect on April 11.

Just hours before the prisoner exchange, the rebels rained rocket fire on several parts of the city, residents said.

There was also heavy fighting for the town of Kirsh on the main highway to Taez from the southern port city of Aden, where the government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi is based.

Despite a 15-month-old intervention by a Saudi-led coalition, the Huthi Shiite rebels and their allies still control the capital Sanaa and most of the central and northern highlands, as well as the Red Sea coast.

More than 6,400 people have been killed since the intervention began, the majority of them civilians, according to UN figures.

The fighting has also driven 2.8 million people from their homes and left more than 80 percent of the population in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

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