Yemen rebels release first prisoner in swap deal

Sanaa (AFP) –


Yemen's Huthi rebels on Tuesday released the first prisoner under an agreement with the government brokered last month, the United Nations said.

"The special envoy welcomes the unconditional release... of the sick Saudi prisoner," the office of UN envoy Martin Griffiths tweeted.

"The special envoy hopes to see more similar humanitarian gestures from the parties."

The International Committee of the Red Cross, overseeing the prisoner swap, confirmed the Saudi soldier had been transferred from Sanaa to Riyadh.

It posted a video of a man in a stretcher being carried onto a Red Cross jet.

The Huthis named the soldier as Musa al-Awaji in a report on their Al-Masirah TV. It said the Saudi was freed "without collateral as a humanitarian gesture".

Awaji is the first prisoner to be released under a deal agreed between the Saudi-backed government and rebels at UN-brokered peace talks in Sweden last month.

The two parties agreed to exchange 15,000 detainees and have submitted lists of prisoners' names to UN mediators.

For nearly four years, Yemen's Iran-backed Huthi rebels have been locked in a war with a regional pro-government alliance led by Riyadh.

The conflict has triggered what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with millions of people at risk of mass starvation.

The war has killed some 10,000 people since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in support of the beleaguered government in March 2015, according to the World Health Organization.

Human rights groups say the real death toll could be five times as high.