Scores more freed on day two of Yemen prisoner swap

Sanaa (AFP) –


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

The biggest prisoner swap since the start of the country's conflict was a rare sign of progress in efforts to end the war, which has seen Huthi rebels hold the capital Sanaa and much of the north despite a military intervention by backers of the internationally recognised government, led by Saudi Arabia.

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.

"We're happy to see the completion of the release and transfer of 1,056 former detainees," the ICRC said in a tweet.

"We're encouraged by this success & hope that it leads to more steps towards the transfer & release of more detainees."

- Further handovers expected -

The ICRC, which handled the complex logistics for the two-day exchange, said it had flown 704 freed detainees to cities in both Yemen and neighbouring Saudi Arabia on Thursday, followed by a further 352 on Friday.

Under the exchange agreement hammered out during a week of negotiations in Switzerland last month, the warring sides had agreed to release over 1,000 prisoners over the two days.

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.

Majed Fadael, a member of the government's committee for prisoner affairs, said negotiators would meet again later this year to discuss the fate of those who remain in Huthi custody.

"The next deal will include four leading government figures," including General Nasser Mansour Hadi, the brother of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, he said.

This week's swap 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.