Yemen prisoner exchange talks falter

Whether Lollesgaard’s mission can continue its positive direction is not known.
Sunday 10/02/2019
New head of the UN mission tasked with overseeing the ceasefire in Hodeidah, Lieutenant-General Michael Anker Lollesgaard (C), talks to UN staffers upon his arrival at Sana’a airport, February 5. (Reuters)
A challenging mission. New head of the UN mission tasked with overseeing the ceasefire in Hodeidah, Lieutenant-General Michael Anker Lollesgaard (C), talks to UN staffers upon his arrival at Sana’a airport, February 5. (Reuters)

ADEN - UN-sponsored prisoner exchange negotiations in Jordan between Iran-allied Houthi rebels and the internationally recognised government are not yielding positive results, a source said.

Representatives of the government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the Houthi militia met in the presence of UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths to discuss a potential prisoner trade, which was one of the issues agreed to in December during talks in Sweden.

A source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the talks failed because the Houthis refused to conduct a comprehensive exchange process in accordance with the agreement.

The source said the Houthis were trying to fragment the process and had only agreed on 10% of the names included in the initial list submitted.

The source quoted the head of the government delegation in the prisoners’ committee, Hadi Heig, as saying the government presented an integrated vision on the exchange of prisoners and said it had the support of International Committee of the Red Cross representatives attending the meeting.

Griffiths had said he hoped the meetings in Amman would “finalise the list of prisoners and detainees to be released and exchanged.”

The Houthi militia, in a February 7 posting on its website, said the meeting had failed.

Abdul Qader Murtada, leader of the Houthi delegation, told Thomson Reuters that “if the other side remains in its intransigent position of denying the presence of our prisoners, the talks will drag on for months.”

The new head of the UN mission tasked with overseeing the ceasefire in Hodeidah, retired Danish

Lieutenant-General Michael Lollesgaard, had his first meetings February 3-6 with warring factions. This resulted in the Houthis and the Yemeni government agreeing to a redeployment of forces from Hodeidah.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Lollesgaard “tabled a proposal that proved acceptable, in principle… pending further consultations by the parties with their respective leaders.”

Dujarric was referencing Lollesgaard’s predecessor, retired Dutch Major-General Patrick Cammaert, who had been heading the mission after a truce between pro-government and Saudi-led coalition forces and the Houthis went into effect mid-December.

Houthi-affiliated Al Masirah television reported that Lollesgaard replaced Cammaert after Cammaert “failed to implement what had been agreed on during the Stockholm consultations.”

Dujarric said the UN monitoring team would meet again with warring factions “within the next week, with the aim of finalising details for redeployments.”

Whether Lollesgaard’s mission can continue its positive direction is not known; however, analysts said some factors might be beyond UN control.

Yemeni political researcher Mansour Saleh said the problem is the conduct of the militias and the lack of international consensus that emphasises the importance of committing to what has been agreed to by both sides.

The departure of African mobile phone operator MTN from the Yemeni market appears imminent because the Houthi militia’s “systematic looting” of MTN was under the pretext of collecting taxes, unidentified sources told the pro-southern separatist Aden al-Ghad news website.

The report said a taxation court in Sana’a, which is still under Houthi control, handed MTN verdicts that allowed the seizure of millions of dollars in funds belonging to the company.

MTN was ordered to submit to the Houthi tax authority revenues deposited at the Yemeni Commercial Bank, the TeleYemen company and seven currency exchange companies.

Hadi announced the relocation of the Central Bank of Yemen headquarters from Sana’a to Aden in September 2016, two years after the Houthi rebels and their allies took control of the capital. A statement by the Yemeni Foreign Ministry in 2018 accused the Houthis of looting funds from oil revenues, taxes, charitable donations and customs fees. It said that the Houthis took $6 billion in 2017 alone.

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