The Yemeni parties, with the mediation of the UN, begin negotiations on the exchange of prisoners

CAIRO (AP) — Yemen’s warring sides began talks Saturday aimed at implementing a U.N.-brokered prisoner exchange deal, …

CAIRO (AP) — Yemen’s warring sides began talks on Saturday aimed at implementing a U.N.-brokered prisoner swap deal, the United Nations said.

Discussions between the internationally recognized government of Yemen and the Houthi rebels are taking place in Switzerland. They are co-chaired by the UN Representative for Yemen Hans Grundberg and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Grundberg called on both sides to “engage in serious and forthcoming discussions to agree on the release of as many detainees as possible,” the UN said in a statement.

“I call on the parties to honor the commitments they have made not only to each other, but also to the thousands of Yemeni families who have waited too long to be reunited with their loved ones,” he said.

Yemen’s conflict erupted in 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthis seized the capital Sana’a and much of the country’s north. That prompted the Saudi-led coalition to intervene months later in an attempt to restore the internationally recognized government to power.

Jason Straziusa, ICRC spokesman in Geneva, described the meeting as an opportunity to “reduce the humanitarian suffering associated with this conflict.”

“If more detainees are released, it will be good news for families who can be reunited with their loved ones,” he said.

Majed Fadail, Yemen’s deputy minister for human rights and a member of the government delegation, said the talks would last 11 days, the government news agency SABA reported.

He said they wanted to release all prisoners of war to help achieve a “lasting and comprehensive peace” in Yemen.

Abdul-Kader al-Murtaza, head of the Houthi delegation, said they hoped this round of talks would prove “decisive”.

The Union of Mothers of Abductees, an association of female relatives of detainees imprisoned by the Houthis, called for a “radical solution” that would end the suffering of those languishing in prisons. The statement says that the release of the prisoners will be a step forward towards ending the conflict.

Negotiations are ongoing 2018 agreement which demanded that both sides release all those detained in connection with the conflict “without exceptions or conditions”.

The detainee swap deal was part of a wider UN-brokered deal that ended months of fighting over the key Red Sea city of Hodeida four years ago. Since then, both sides have released many prisoners a major exchange which will take place in October 2020 and will involve more than 1,000 detainees from both sides.

The conflict has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters and in recent years has turned into a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Yemeni talks in Switzerland began a day after Iran and Saudi Arabia announced a deal to restore diplomatic relations brokered by China after years of frayed ties and hostilities.

Analysts were critical of the Iran-Saudi deal. Ahmed Naghi, a Yemen expert at Crisis Group International, said that while the agreement was an “important step”, it did not mean that Yemen’s multi-stage conflict would be resolved quickly.

“It is unclear what the details of the deal are and how Tehran and Riyadh will address Yemen’s problems on the ground,” he said.


Associated Press writer Jamie Kitten contributed from Geneva.

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