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article imageYemen talks make 'important progress' on prisoner swap: UN

By AFP     Feb 8, 2019 in World

Yemen's Saudi-backed government and Huthi rebels have made "important progress" during talks in Jordan on a troubled UN-brokered prisoner swap deal, mediators said Friday.

The huge prisoner exchange agreed in Stockholm in December is seen as a crucial confidence-building measure in the UN-led push to calm four years of devastating conflict.

After three days of talks in the Jordanian capital, a UN committee tasked with overseeing the swap said the warring sides had made "important progress in moving the release process forward".

That headway included "providing additional information on the status of individuals included in the lists of prisoners", it added.

Both sides have said repeatedly they remain committed to the agreement that could see thousands of prisoners released.

During talks in Jordan last month, they submitted lists of the detainees they each want to see freed, but deep distrust prevented them coming up with a final list of names for the exchange.

Saudi prisoner Musa al-Awaji waves as he steps into a Red Cross plane at Sanaa airport following his...
Saudi prisoner Musa al-Awaji waves as he steps into a Red Cross plane at Sanaa airport following his release by Yemen's Huthi rebels in January 2019

At the end of January, the rebels released a captured Saudi soldier while Riyadh set free seven Huthi prisoners, but they are the only detainees exchanged under the deal so far.

UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths said Tuesday at the opening of this round of talks he hoped the two sides would manage to finalise the swap deal.

"Success in this regard is not only of huge importance for those who will be released and return to their families but also to the broader political process in which we are engaged," he said

The prisoner exchange was one of the key breakthroughs at the UN-mediated talks in December.

There are fears that if the exchange fails it could have a knock-on effect on the other key elements -- fragile truce agreements for the lifeline port of Hodeida and battleground third city of Taez.

Those deals too have faced problems -- while the ceasefires have largely held, timetables for the pullback of combatants have fallen far behind schedule.

Yemen's government and Huthi rebels have agreed on a preliminary compromise for redeploying their forces from the port city of Hodeida, the UN said Thursday.

The conflict in Yemen has killed some 10,000 people since a 2015 Saudi-led intervention and pushed 14 million to the brink of famine, according to the United Nations.

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