Yemen factions conclude Jordan talks, UN monitors come under fire

The Houthi rebels expressed reservations concerning the inclusion on the prisoner exchange list of senior military and political figures.
Sunday 20/01/2019
Little progress. Delegates from the Houthi rebel group and the Yemeni government meet to discuss a prisoner exchange deal in Amman, January 17.(DPA)
Little progress. Delegates from the Houthi rebel group and the Yemeni government meet to discuss a prisoner exchange deal in Amman, January 17.(DPA)

ADEN, Yemen - Yemen’s internationally recognised government and Iran-allied Houthi rebels have concluded two days of prisoner exchange talks sponsored by the United Nations.

Both sides in the conflict were to deliver lists of prisoners to the United Nations after talks in Amman under an exchange agreement, a government delegate told Thomson Reuters.

The talks are line with the UN-sponsored deal reached in December in Sweden.

A UN statement said the meeting in Amman “witnessed positive, constructive and frank discussions on the implementation of the agreement that was reached between the two parties prior to the Sweden consultations.”

“The two parties took the first step in implementing the agreement by exchanging the lists of prisoners and detainees and providing responses on the exchanged lists,” the statement said, without clarifying whether all individuals on the lists were agreed upon by both sides.

Government sources in attendance painted a less rosy picture of the talks, accusing the rebels of procrastination and refusing to acknowledge a large number of prisoners on a list submitted by the Yemeni government.

The Houthi rebels also expressed reservations concerning the inclusion on the prisoner exchange list of senior military and political figures, including former Minister of Defence Major-General Mahmoud al-Subaihi, Yemeni politician Mohammed Qahtan, government military commander Faisal Rajab and Major-General Nasser Mansour Hadi, the brother of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The Yemeni government source said the Houthis’ goal is to make a separate deal regarding the senior military and political figures while buying time during prisoner exchange talks.

In an interview aired January 17 on Houthi-controlled Al Masirah television, the head of the Houthi committee for prisoners’ and detainees’ affairs, Abdel Qader al-Murtada, said there had been no progress in the talks.

The United Nations was trying to find a common ground between the sides to allow for the release of prisoners scheduled for January 20. That deadline will likely be missed.

On January 16, the UN Security Council approved the deployment of up to 75 observers to Hodeidah, the entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s commercial imports and aid, to monitor a truce and troop withdrawal by both sides.

The Hadi government welcomed the resolution, saying it reiterated the international community’s emphasis on respecting “the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Yemen,” a statement carried on the pro-government Saba news agency said.

Hodeidah is held by the Houthis but there are thousands of pro-government forces massed on the city outskirts.

A day after the UN Security Council resolution passed, a UN team monitoring the ceasefire in Hodeidah was attacked.

“Patrick Cammaert and team are safe in [Hodeidah] following reported shooting incident,” the office of UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric posted on Twitter.

A report by the Dubai-based Al Arabiya news channel said the Houthi militia opened fire “directly” on a convoy carrying Cammaert, a retired Dutch general who heads the committee monitoring the ceasefire in Hodeidah, after he had a brief meeting with representatives of the Hadi government.

The channel’s Yemen correspondent said that, before the attack, Houthi forces stopped Cammaert for 4 hours while on his way to meet with government’s representatives.

Saba, quoting a member of the militia, accused pro-government forces of “firing live bullets” at security personnel accompanying the UN team while they were trying to clear a road leading to the meeting venue.

“It is important to add that all the parties in Yemen are also responsible for the safety of all UN personnel… We are dealing with a highly volatile environment in Hodeidah,” Dujarric told Voice of America.

Yemen plunged into civil war in 2014, when the rebels captured Sana’a. A Saudi-led coalition intervened a year later, fighting alongside government troops.

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