Yemen conflict: Warring parties 'exchange prisoners'

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image copyrightEPA
image captionA seven-day ceasefire began on Tuesday, but both sides accused each other of violations

Yemen's warring parties are reported to have exchanged hundreds of prisoners, as UN-brokered talks aimed at ending the conflict in the country continue.

The swap involved 360 members of the rebel Houthi movement and 265 civilians and pro-government fighters, officials told the Reuters news agency.

Al-Arabiya TV said it took place in the southern province of Lahj.

The UN encouraged both sides to agree to prisoner exchanges when the peace talks began in Switzerland on Tuesday.

At least 5,870 people have been killed since March, when a Saudi-led coalition began a military campaign to restore Yemen's government and drive back the Houthis and their allies.

The already dire humanitarian situation has also deteriorated severely, with more than 21 million people - four-fifths of the population - now requiring aid.

Tribal mediation

A senior official in the Southern Resistance, whose forces are allied to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, told Reuters on Wednesday morning that the prisoners would be exchanged at midday (09:00 GMT).

An official from the Houthi-run prisons authority in the capital Sanaa, which the rebels overran in September 2014, confirmed that southern prisoners had boarded buses to the border between the former North and South Yemen.

Witnesses in the southern port city of Aden, where the government currently has its headquarters, also told Reuters that they had seen buses guarded by local fighters travelling through the city.

A seven-day ceasefire came into force across Yemen as the talks got under way on Tuesday in the Swiss village of Macolin, near Berne.

The truce appeared to be largely holding on Wednesday, although both sides have accused each other of violations.

A spokesman for security forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is backing the Houthis, said the Red Sea port city of Hudayda had been bombarded by coalition naval vessels, and that fighting had continued in the city of Taiz.

image copyrightAP
image captionThe UN told delegations at the peace talks in Switzerland that making peace requires courage

The UN's special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said the ceasefire "should mark the end of military violence in Yemen and the transition to progress based on negotiations, dialogue and consensus".

He has said both sides are committed to implementing UN Security Council resolution 2216, which calls on them to end the violence and avoid unilateral actions that might jeopardise a political transition. It also demands the Houthis and their allies withdraw from areas they have seized and hand over captured weapons.

An earlier round of indirect talks in Geneva in June ended without an agreement.

Why is there fighting in Yemen?

  • Northern Shia Muslim rebels known as Houthis, backed by forces loyal to Yemen's ex-president, took over parts of Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa, and forced the government into exile in March
  • The rebels accused the government of corruption and of planning to marginalise their heartland within a proposed federal system
  • Forces loyal to the government and Southern militias, aided by Saudi-led coalition air strikes and troops, have since regained control of five southern provinces

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