Yemen govt, rebels swap names of 15,000 prisoners at UN talks

Rimbo (Sweden) (AFP) –


Yemen's government and rival rebels announced Tuesday plans for a mass prisoner swap, exchanging some 15,000 names, as UN-brokered talks on ending the country's war entered their seventh day.

Nearly four years into a war that has pushed 14 million Yemenis to the brink of mass starvation, the Saudi-backed government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and Huthi rebels, linked to Riyadh's arch-rival Iran, began talks Thursday in the rural town of Rimbo in Sweden. The talks are expected to last a week.

The Huthi rebels announced that the names of a total of 15,000 detainees and prisoners had been exchanged. A source in the government delegation said their side had released the names of 8,200 detainees but declined to comment on the combined total.

The rebels' Al-Masirah television said both parties had two weeks to revise the list of names.

The rebels and government have agreed to a 45-day deadline for the exchange, sources in both delegations said.

Prisoners will be flown out through two airports: government-held Seyoun, in central Yemen, and the rebel-held capital Sanaa, home to an international airport that has been largely shut down for three years.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has confirmed it will oversee the exchange.

The Sweden talks are the first meeting between the two parties in the Yemen conflict, which pits the Iran-backed Huthis against the Hadi government, allied with a regional military coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

Brokered by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths earlier this month, the prisoner swap was one of the main points -- and the least contentious -- at this week's talks.

Griffiths told reporters on Monday the prisoner swap would be "very, very considerable in terms of the numbers that we hope to get released within a few weeks".

The prisoner exchange was the only issue the rival delegations were confirmed to have met on face-to-face.

Among the other issues under discussion are potential humanitarian corridors, the reopening of the defunct Sanaa international airport, and Hodeida, the rebel-held city at the heart of an ongoing government offensive.