Yemen’s warring sides have started talks in Switzerland aimed at implementing a UN-brokered deal on a prisoner exchange, the United Nations said.
The discussions between Yemen’s internationally recognised government and the Houthi rebels are taking place in the Swiss city of Geneva. They are co-chaired by the UN envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Grundberg urged both parties to “engage in serious and forthcoming discussions to agree on releasing as many detainees as possible,” according to a UN statement.
“I urge the parties to fulfil the commitments they made, not just to each other, but also to the thousands of Yemeni families who have been waiting to be reunited with their loved ones for far too long,” he said.
The talks, reportedly set to last 11 days, mark the seventh meeting aimed at implementing a UN-backed deal on prisoner exchanges reached in Stockholm five years ago.
Yemen’s conflict erupted in 2014 when the Iran-backed Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country’s north. That prompted a Saudi-led coalition to intervene months later in a bid to restore the internationally recognised government to power.
Jason Straziuso, a Geneva-based spokesperson for the ICRC, characterised the meeting as an opportunity to “reduce the humanitarian suffering associated with this conflict.”
“If more detainees are released, it will be welcome news for families that can be reunited with loved ones,” he said.
Majed Fadail, Yemen’s deputy minister for human rights and a member of the government delegation, was quoted by the government-run SABA news agency as saying that they were eager to release all war prisoners to help achieve a “lasting and comprehensive peace” in Yemen.
The talks are a follow-up to a 2018 agreement that demanded that both parties release all those detained in relation to the conflict “without any exceptions or conditions.”
The Detainees’ Exchange Agreement was part of a wider UN-brokered deal that ended months of fighting over the crucial Red Sea city of Hodeida four years ago.
Since then, the two parties have released many prisoners with a major exchange taking place in October 2020 and involving more than 1,000 detainees from both sides.
The conflict has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters and has become in recent years a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Yemen talks in Switzerland began a day after Iran and Saudi Arabia announced a China-brokered deal to re-establish diplomatic ties after years of frayed ties and hostilities.