Yemen prisoner swap talks conclude with no deal

“I am disappointed that this round of talks did not amount to what we saw in Switzerland last September which resulted in the historic release of 1056 detainees,” said the world body’s Yemen envoy, Martin Griffiths, in a statement.

Monday 22/02/2021
A file photo shows (From L) ICRC representative Fabrizio Carboni, Houthi representative Abdulkader al-Murtada, Head of the Yemeni government delegation Hadi Haig and UN Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, in Spetember 2020 in Switzerland.  (AFP)
A file photo shows (From L) ICRC representative Fabrizio Carboni, Houthi representative Abdulkader al-Murtada, Head of the Yemeni government delegation Hadi Haig and UN Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, in Spetember 2020 in Switzerland. (AFP)

AMMAN – Talks on a possible prisoner exchange between Yemen’s warring parties concluded Sunday with no deal after a month of wrangling, the UN said.

“I am disappointed that this round of talks did not amount to what we saw in Switzerland last September which resulted in the historic release of 1056 detainees,” said the world body’s Yemen envoy, Martin Griffiths, in a statement.

“I urge the parties to continue their discussions and consultations, conclude the implementation of what they agreed to and expand the arrangements to release more detainees soon.”

Yemen’s internationally recognised government and Iran-aligned Houthi militias had agreed in 2018 to swap some 15,000 detainees in a rare conciliatory move after years of war that has triggered what the UN called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

In October, hundreds of fighters from both sides headed home in the first large-scale handover since the war began, under a deal struck the previous month in Switzerland.

But talks led by the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross in Jordan since January 24 have failed to bring about another swap, the UN said Sunday.

The two sides, however, “committed to keep discussing the parameters of a future expanded release operation,” it added.

“I reiterate my call for the unconditional release of all sick, wounded, elderly and children detainees as well as detained civilians, including women and journalists,” Griffiths said.

The two sides traded the blame for the failure of the talks.

Yemen’s devastating conflict erupted in 2014, when the Iran-aligned Houthis seized the capital, Sana’a, and much of the country’s north. That prompted a US-backed Arab military coalition to intervene months later in a bid to restore the government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power.

The conflict has killed some 130,000 people and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

The failure in the prisoner swap talks has come amid an intensive attack by the Houthis on the government-held Marib province.

The Houthi attacks forced several thousand of internally displaced people, or IDPs, to flee from Marib’s district of Swarih eastward to the province’s capital, after the heavy fighting left them without water, electricity, health and educational needs.

Marib province has served as a sort of haven for around 1 million Yemenis who have fled Houthi offensives since the start of the war.