Prisoner swap deal adds to hopes for downplayed Yemen peace talks
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.