Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Monday released hundreds of detained Yemeni nationals in a unilateral move welcomed by the United Nations envoy, who said he hoped that it could spark greater progress on a prisoner exchange deal outlined in peace talks in Stockholm last year.
The Houthi group in control of Yemen’s capital released hundreds of prisoners on Monday in a unilateral move, which the United Nations hoped would help revive a stalled peace process after months of failed efforts to push through a prisoner swap.
Dozens of men in clean, new, white clothing walked out of the central prison in the capital Sanaa and lined up outside, supervised by men in military uniforms.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which facilitated the release, said 290 Yemeni nationals were transferred from the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa to their homes.
The Iran-aligned Houthis agreed in Sweden in December with Yemen’s Saudi-backed government to swap prisoners as a confidence-building step. But the arrangement has been stalled as the sides struggled to agree on implementation. Each side was meant to release around 7,000 prisoners.
The Houthis said on Monday they were releasing “350 prisoners and detainees” drawn from the list prepared for the deal, including three Saudis.
The U.N. Yemen envoy, Martin Griffiths, called on all parties to meet soon to discuss prisoner exchanges.
“I hope this step will lead to further initiatives that will facilitate the exchange of all the conflict-related detainees as per the Stockholm Agreement,” he said.
A Saudi-led Sunni Muslim coalition which receives arms and intelligence from Western countries intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the Yemeni government from Sanaa.
Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki asked at a news conference on Monday about the prisoner release, said he did not have information on it.
The Houthis, who control most major urban areas in Yemen, have carried out ground attacks against coalition forces and launched missiles and drones into Saudi Arabia. The Coalition carries out airstrikes against Houthi targets in Yemen.
The Houthis claimed responsibility for a Sept. 14 attack on a major Saudi crude oil processing plant that cut off around 5% of global oil supplies. Saudi Arabia says Iran, not the Houthis, was to blame.
On Saturday the Houthis said they had carried out a major attack, in which thousands of troops and many vehicles were captured, near the border with Saudi Arabia’s southern region of Najran.
Yemen’s interior minister denied that the incident had taken place and said video released by the Houthis was old footage.
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