Yemen’s warring factions hold prisoner swap talks in Jordan

The UN envoy Martin Griffiths said the three-day meeting aims to “finalize the list of prisoners and detainees to be released and exchanged.”
Tuesday 05/02/2019
The Houthi rebel delegation, right, and delegates of the internationally recognized Yemeni government hold talks on Yemen, in Amman, Jordan, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP)
The Houthi rebel delegation, right, and delegates of the internationally recognized Yemeni government hold talks on Yemen, in Amman, Jordan, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP)

LONDON - Yemen’s warring factions held a meeting to discuss a prisoner swap in the Jordanian capital Amman today, the office of United Nations special envoy Martin Griffiths said.

Representatives of the internationally recognised Yemeni government of president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and the Iran-allied Houthi rebels met in an effort to discuss the prisoner swap deal, which was one of the points agreed upon at talks in Sweden in December, in addition to a ceasefire for the key port city of Hodeidah.

The UN envoy Martin Griffiths said the three-day meeting aims to “finalize the list of prisoners and detainees to be released and exchanged.”

He stressed that a breakthrough in the prisoners’ deal would give momentum to the rocky talks over Yemen’s crucial port of Hodeida, where a UN-brokered truce has witnessed multiple breaches.

“Success in this regard is not only of huge importance for those who will be released.. but also, for the broader political process in which we have hopes the parties will together resolve the issues that divide them and return Yemen to peace.” Griffiths said.

The Amman prisoner negotiations will verify names of about 15,000 prisoners exchanged by both sides, some of whom include Saudis and other nationals fighting on the government side.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) whose agency would oversee the operation, was cautiously optimistic. Implementing the deal could take weeks and involve the repatriation of third country nationals.

“Trust doesn’t come from one day to another. It is a difficult process and we know this is work in progress,” ICRC President Peter Maurer told the two warring sides at the start of the talks.

Experts say that the deal signed in Sweden is problematic because of its vague wording on which force will take control over Hodeidah, which is currently held by the Houthis. As for the prisoners’ deal, there were no guarantees that the Houthis would stop arresting civilians from their homes to use as bargaining chips.

Rival factions also met on February 3rd, to discuss a ceasefire agreement, on board a ship docked off the coast of the strategic port of Hodeidah, the Al Arabiya TV News reported.

The meeting of the joint coordination committee was headed by Retd Gen Patrick Cammaert, the outgoing head of the UN observer mission.

According to Al Arabiya, the discussions began at 1000 local time (0700 gmt) and quoted a source in the joint committee as saying that the rebels had refused in the first session of talks to discuss means to ensure the implementation of an agreed ceasefire, “using as an excuse the continuation of air strikes.”

Meanwhile ahead of the talks, the Hadi government said that its forces had foiled the smuggling of a shipment of “rockets, explosives and drones” into rebel-controlled capital Sana’a, reported the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

The cargo was intercepted and seized in the province of Marib, east of Sanaa, Mohammed bin Aboud al-Sharif, the first undersecretary of the Yemeni Interior Ministry, told the newspaper.

Al-Sharif said that the weapons were being transported on medium-sized trucks and were seized after a tip-off the ministry had received. He added that the shipment had entered the country through the eastern side, controlled by the government, the report quoted the Yemeni official as saying.

According to Al-Sharif, “a number of people involved” in the operation had been arrested and referred to the judiciary, the report added.