Saudi to unilaterally release detainees to Yemen following prisoner swap

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DUBAI, April 17 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia on Monday will release a number of detainees to Yemen, the International Committee of the Red Cross said, in a unilateral move that follows three days of simultaneous detainee exchanges between the warring parties in Yemen’s conflict.

A three-day operation overseen by the ICRC to return nearly 900 detainees held in relation to the conflict ended on Sunday, a significant confidence-building measure amid peace talks between Saudi envoys and Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group.

The Houthis’ deputy foreign minister on Twitter said 104 Yemenis being held in Saudi Arabia would on Monday be released outside of that main prisoner exchange deal.

Warring parties agreed at negotiations in Switzerland last month to free 887 detainees and to meet again in May to discuss further releases.

Negotiators had hoped for an “all for all” deal involving all remaining detainees during talks, the latest in a series of meetings that led to releases of prisoners in 2022 and 2020 under a U.N.-mediated deal known as the Stockholm Agreement.

ICRC planes carried the released detainees between six cities in Yemen and Saudi Arabia over the three-day release.

“Any respite for an exhausted population, including through release operations like these, is something to be supported. But ultimately, only a political solution will end the suffering in Yemen”, said Fabrizio Carboni, the ICRC’s regional director.

Yemen’s conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of people and left millions hungry, has widely been seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 after the Iran-aligned Houthis ousted the government from Sanaa in 2014.

Riyadh and Tehran last month agreed to restore diplomatic ties severed in 2016, raising hopes that Yemen’s peace process would see progress.

A Saudi delegation on Thursday concluded peace talks in Sanaa with the Houthi movement, whose top negotiator said talks had made progress and further discussions would be held to iron out remaining differences.

Relatives and friends of war prisoners wait for their arrival on the third day of a prisoner swap at Sanaa airport, in Sana’a, Yemen. Yemen’s warring parties began on 14 April a three-day exchange of 887 prisoners. The Houthis have agreed to release 181 detainees, including Saudis and Sudanese soldiers who fought alongside Yemeni government forces, in exchange for 706 prisoners held by the Yemeni government, under the UN and ICRC-brokered prisoner swap deal reached last March in Switzerland. EPA-EFE/YAHYA ARHAB

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