Yemen Peace Nears, Both Sides Agree To Hudaydah Truce and Prisoner Swap
A major step forward came in Sweden behind closed doors, where the Yemeni government and Houthi rebel group agreed to a prisoner swap and truce in the key port of Hudaydah.
On Thursday, the first peace talks on Yemen wrapped up in the city of Rimbo, 60 km from the Sweden capital Stockholm where U.N. mediators were hoping to make progress in several key issues.
The Yemeni government backed by Saudi Arabia and the Iran-supported Houthi rebel group have agreed to a large-scale prisoner swap.
Askar Zouail, one of the government delegates, said that his side submitted names of 8,576 prisoners to the U.N. while the Houthis had 7,487.
The government demanded that at least 800 teachers, 359 children, 357 ethnic heads, 200 preachers, and 88 women be released, according to an official document obtained by Aljazeera.
Hadi Haig, who heads Yemen’s prisoner swap committee, said that before the swapping process is carried out, names of prisoners held by both the government and the rebel group would be verified, including any who went missing.
Both Warring Sides Once Rejected the Initial Proposal
Delegates from both sides once refused the idea of expanding a truce to the port city of Hudeydah, an entry point for humanitarian aid.
One of the drafts for a truce submitted by the U.N. cited 16 points to stop the entire war and would have declared that all troops from government and the rebel sides be withdrawn. The U.N would also monitor and control the post-war government.
The full-scale truce proposal was, however, rejected.
“As usual, in every negotiation, ideas proposed and they can be rejected, they can be thrown on the table,” said Alu Hussein Ashal, a Yemen delegate from the government’s side.
Some reports also said that the warring sides were close to reaching an agreement to re-open the Sanaa Airport and resume oil and gas exports to boost the income of Yemen, one of the Middle East’s poorest countries.
The conflicting parties also reached a cease-fire deal in the port city of Hudaydah, the Houthi-controlled area, and will withdraw their troops.
The Hudaydah port is the main access point for humanitarian aid, however, restrictions imposed by the Saudi-UAE coalition on goods in the port has worsened the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country, where around 22 million are in dire need of aid.
What’s Next For Yemen?
A Redeployment Coordination Committee will supervise the truce and the withdrawal, according to the new agreement. The process will be led by the U.N. and will be reported on to the U.N. Security Council every week.
An international monitoring team will be deployed in Hudeydah and three other ports, and all troops will be pulled out completely within 21 days of the truce taking effect.
These are seen as a significant breakthrough for establishing peace in Yemen. U.N Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the framework for political negotiations will be discussed in an upcoming meeting at the end of January between the Houthis and the Saudi-backed government led by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
“The U.N. will play a leading role in the port,” Guterres told a news conference.
Yemen has been ruined by conflict since 2014, when the Shiite Houthi controlled most parts of the country, including Sanaa and Hudaydah. The war escalated when Saudi Arabia and its allies launched a military intervention to wage war against the Houthis, a move aimed at containing any Iran influence.
On Tuesday, ACLED (Armed Conflict Location and Event Daya), a war monitoring body, reported that at least 28,182 died in the first eleven months this year — up 68 percent from the same period in 2017.