Scores more freed on day two of Yemen prisoner swap

Sanaa (AFP) –


More than 350 prisoners were freed on Friday on the second day of a landmark exchange between the warring sides in Yemen, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

The prisoner swap is a rare sign of progress in efforts to end the conflict in Yemen, where rebels still control the capital Sanaa and much of the north despite the intervention of a Saudi-led coalition in support of the internationally recognised government.

Aircraft arranged by the International Committee of the Red Cross shuttled between Sanaa and Yemen's second city Aden, seat of the Saudi-backed government, on Friday, ferrying released prisoners.

"In cooperation with the Yemen (Red) Crescent, we facilitated the release and transfer of 352 former detainees between Aden and Sanaa," the ICRC said on Twitter.

The ICRC, which was tasked with the logistics of the complex two-day exchange, said that on Thursday it flew more than 700 freed detainees to cities in both Yemen and neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

Under the exchange agreement hammered out in a week of negotiations in Switzerland last month, the warring sides agreed to release a total of 1,081 prisoners over the two days.

The number is much the largest since the conflict erupted in 2014.

Back in 2018, the Yemeni government and the Iran-backed Huthi rebels resolved to swap some 15,000 detainees as part of a peace deal brokered by the UN in Sweden.

The two sides have since undertaken sporadic prisoner exchanges, but this week's swap is the first large-scale handover since the war began.

It comes after the release Wednesday of two Americans held captive in Yemen, in an apparent swap for some 240 Huthi supporters who were allowed to return home after being stranded in neighbouring Oman.

The rebels also sent back the remains of a third American who died in captivity.

The fate of the 240 Yemenis, who had travelled to Oman for medical treatment in what was supposed to be a confidence-building move during the 2018 talks in Sweden, had become a major grievance for the rebels and a symbol of the deep distrust between the two sides.