Published: Sat, December 08, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Yemen's warring sides agree on prisoner exchange

Yemen's warring sides agree on prisoner exchange

"We are determined to help facilitate the transfers and reunite people separated from their families", he said in a statement minutes after Thursday's announcement of the prisoner exchange at the talks in Rimbo, north of the Swedish capital Stockholm.

Peace talks in Sweden between rebels and the former government have begun with a significant agreement to swap prisoners.

On the table at the Sweden talks is the fate of Hodeida, the last rebel stronghold on Yemen's Red Sea coast and the conduit for 90% of vital food imports.

The legitimate government delegation said - regarding the strategic port city of Hodeidah - that the national army "have means to resolve the file of the port of Hodeidah, if peaceful efforts fail". They are slated to run for one week. The government and Huthis on Tuesday said they agreed to a prisoner swap, to be overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross, after the Sweden talks.

World Food Program's spokesman Herve Verhoosel said the "ambitious undertaking" finalizes plans in the works in recent months to reach 12 million people with food and nutritional supplements through January, from between 7-8 million now.

The UN peace negotiations got underway in the Swedish capital city of Stockholm on Thursday amid continuous obstruction attempts by theHouthi militias violating the declared truce in Yemen's Hodeidah port city. Saudi Arabia has come under heavy USA pressure since the killing of Khashoggi, and the Houthis are under intense financial strain. In Yemen, the internationally-recognized government is fighting with the support of Saudi Arabia and the United States against the Houthi rebels, which are in turn supported by Iran.

Talks between Yemen's government and rebels, locked in a devastating war for almost four years, opened on Thursday as tension remained high despite what the United Nations envoy called a "critical opportunity".

"There is a way we can resolve the conflict", Griffiths said, adding that the Security Council was "united" in its support for a resolution to the conflict.

And as the talks started, a World Food Programme official warned even halting the war would not end hunger in Yemen.

"We would like to see that airport open, but it needs to be assessed", he said.

The head of the Huthis' political council, Mohammed Ali Huthi, threatened Thursday to bar United Nations planes from using the Yemeni capital's airport and keep it closed unless the talks led to its full reopening.

More than 10,000 people have been killed since the fighting broke out in 2014 when the rebels seized the capital of Sanaa, forcing the government to flee to temporary exile in Saudi Arabia.

The other main route in and out of Houthi territory is the Sanaa airport, but access is restricted by the Saudi-led coalition which controls the air space.

Worldwide pressure to end the conflict has been ratcheted up in recent weeks, after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi focused attention on Saudi Arabia's foreign policy. Griffiths had attempted to bring the two sides together for UN-sponsored talks in Geneva in September of this year, but the rebels failed to appear.

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