Pris­oner swap deal adds to hopes for down­played Yemen peace talks

The Korea Times - - WORLD -

RIMBO (AP) — Yemen’s war­ring sides agreed to a broad pris­oner swap Thurs­day, sit­ting down in the same room to­gether for the first time in years at U.N.-spon­sored peace talks in Swe­den aimed at halt­ing a cat­a­strophic war that has brought the coun­try to the brink of famine.

Hopes were high that the talks wouldn’t de­te­ri­o­rate into fur­ther vi­o­lence as in the past, and that the pris- oner ex­change would be an im­por­tant first step to­ward build­ing con­fi­dence be­tween highly dis­trust­ful ad­ver­saries.

The 3-year-old con­flict pits the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized gov­ern­ment, which is backed by a Saudi-led coali­tion, against Shi­ite rebels known as Houthis, who took the cap­i­tal of Sanaa in 2014. The Saudis in­ter­vened the fol­low­ing year.

U.N. en­voy Mar­tin Grif­fiths said the two sides have sig­naled they are se­ri­ous about de-es­ca­lat­ing the fight­ing through calls they’ve made in re­cent weeks, and urged them to work to fur­ther re­duce the vi­o­lence in the Arab world’s poor­est na­tion, scene of mas­sive civil­ian suf­fer­ing.

“I’m also pleased to an­nounce the sign­ing of an agree­ment on the ex­change of pris­on­ers, de­tainees, the miss­ing, the forcibly de­tained and in­di­vid­u­als placed un­der house ar­rest,” Grif­fiths said from the venue. “It will al­low thou­sands of fam­i­lies to be re­united, and it is prod­uct of very ef­fec­tive, ac­tive work from both del­e­ga­tions.”

The in­ter­na­tional Red Cross said it would over­see the pris­oner ex­change, which is ex­pected to take weeks.

The talks in the Swedish town of Rimbo, north of Stock­holm, aim to set up “a frame­work for ne­go­ti­a­tions” on a fu­ture peace agree­ment, Grif­fiths said, call­ing the com­ing days a mile­stone none­the­less and urg­ing the par­ties “to work in good faith ... to de­liver a mes­sage of peace.”

The fight­ing in Yemen has gen­er­ated the world’s worst hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis and claimed at least 10,000 lives, with ex­perts es­ti­mat­ing a much higher toll.

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