A massive prisoner swap operation began Friday in Yemen between enemy camps, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said, as Saudi Arabia seeks to broker a truce with rebels in the ravaged country. by war.
“The first plane left Sanaa” as part of this exchange, told AFP Jessica Moussan, in charge of media relations at the ICRC, which oversees the operation. The plane, departing from the capital controlled by the Houthi rebels, is heading for Aden, where the government is temporarily based, supported by Saudi Arabia.
At the end of March, the government recognized by the international community and the rebels had concluded an agreement in Bern to exchange more than 880 prisoners, including Saudis and Sudanese. The last operation of this magnitude dates back to October 2020, when more than 1,000 prisoners were released in 48 hours.
Neighboring Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen in 2015 to support pro-government forces against the Houthis, rebels backed by Iran, who in eight years of conflict have taken over large swathes of northern and west of this poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula.
“Glimmer of hope”
The war there has caused one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced, in a context of epidemics, lack of drinking water and acute hunger. More than three quarters of the population depend on international aid, which nevertheless continues to decline.
The prisoner exchange process is to take place over three days in various parts of Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the ICRC said in a statement.
“With this gesture of goodwill, hundreds of families torn apart by conflict will be reunited for Ramadan, bringing a ray of hope amid great suffering,” said Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC director in the Middle East, in reference during the current Muslim fasting month.
Quoted in the statement, he said he hoped “these releases provide momentum for a broader political solution.”
The Bern agreement was concluded after an unexpected warming of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, two Gulf heavyweights who oppose each other on various issues, and sometimes even by proxy in the Middle East conflicts. , as in Yemen.
This diplomatic reversal raised hopes of an easing of the situation in Yemen. A rare Saudi delegation was in Sanaa this week. She left Thursday with only a “preliminary agreement” for a truce and the promise of “new talks”, according to a rebel official who wished to remain anonymous.
According to Yemeni government sources, who also requested anonymity, the talks are about a six-month truce paving the way for a three-month period of talks over a two-year transition, during which the final solution will be negotiated between all parties.
The truce must make it possible to meet the two main demands of the rebels: the payment by the government of the salaries of civil servants in the rebel zones and the reopening of Sanaa airport, strictly controlled by the Saudi aviation.
Last year, the parties had already observed a six-month truce. Although it was not officially renewed after its expiry in early October, the situation remained relatively calm on the ground.