Proposed Yemen prisoner swap fails to materialize

Proposed Yemen prisoner swap fails to materialize

Prisoners held by Yemen’s warring camps should not be held hostage to political considerations, UN mediator says

By Zakaria al-Kamali

KUWAIT CITY (AA) - A tentative agreement between the Yemeni government and the Shia Houthi group and their allies to exchange prisoners appears to have fallen through, a government source close to ongoing peace talks in Kuwait has told Anadolu Agency.

In a statement Thursday, UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said the need to exchange prisoners was "humanitarian issue" that should not be "held hostage to political considerations".

Ould Cheikh went on to urge both parties to the conflict to "depoliticize" the prisoners issue.

The mediator said that a special committee for prisoners -- drawn up as part of the ongoing talks in Kuwait -- had discussed proposals for carrying out a prisoner swap before the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

On Wednesday, Ould Cheikh had urged both parties to "do their patriotic duty by supporting the peace process by helping reunite families [whose members had been detained] before Ramadan".

"Political bargaining should not come at the expense of these prisoners," he asserted.

"Those being held captive [by both pro-government forces and the Houthis] should be returned to their families as soon as possible," he added.

The UN envoy welcomed a token prisoner swap carried out Wednesday in the Yemeni city of Taiz, expressing hope that all those detained during the conflict would also soon be released.

On April 11, UN-brokered Yemen talks began in Kuwait City following the announcement of a cease-fire.

The government delegation insists that it represents Yemen’s sole legitimate governing authority, citing last year’s UN Security Council Resolution 2216, which calls on the Houthis to lay down their arms and withdraw from cities they currently occupy.

The Houthis, for their part, say they represent the country’s de facto rulers, having run sovereign state institutions -- including Yemen’s central bank -- for more than one year.

Yemen has been racked by chaos since late 2014, when the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh overran capital Sana'a and several other parts of the country.

The move forced President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and his Saudi-backed government to flee to Riyadh for a six-month period.

In March of last year, Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies launched a massive military campaign in Yemen aimed at reversing Houthi gains and restoring Hadi’s embattled government.

According to UN figures, the ongoing conflict has led to the death of some 6,400 Yemenis to date and forced some 2.5 million to flee their homes.

*Ali Abo Rezig in Ankara contributed to this report

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