In an effort to support renewed diplomatic efforts to end the ongoing conflict in Yemen, a Saudi-led military coalition has released 104 more prisoners captured in the war. The release was unilateral and followed an organized prisoner swap that saw over 700 detained Houthis and more than 180 other prisoners, including Saudi and Sudanese troops fighting with the Saudi-led coalition, released under a U.N.-brokered deal.
The International Committee of the Red Cross facilitated the release of the prisoners, flying two flights carrying 96 released detainees from Saudi Arabia’s Abha International Airport to Sanaa, Yemen’s capital held by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Another flight carried eight freed prisoners from Abha to Aden, a port city held by forces allied to the Saudi-led coalition.
The prisoner releases come as the Houthis and Saudi Arabia say they have made progress in negotiations to revive an expired cease-fire and embark on talks to settle the conflict. Monday’s release was aimed at supporting those efforts.
The conflict in Yemen began in 2014 when Houthi rebels overthrew the government and took control of the capital, Sanaa. A Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015, launching air strikes against the Houthis and supporting government forces with troops on the ground. The conflict has killed thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
The release of prisoners is a positive step towards ending the conflict and has been praised by the U.N. envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, who said, “We have not seen such a serious opportunity for making progress towards ending the conflict in eight years. But the tide could still turn unless the parties take bolder steps toward peace.”
While the prisoner releases are a welcome development, there is still a long way to go towards achieving a lasting peace in Yemen. Grundberg emphasized that “this is not enough” and called on both sides to take bolder steps towards peace.
According to the state-run Saudi Press Agency, Brig. Gen. Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said the prisoner release was part of “efforts to stabilize the cease-fire and create an atmosphere of dialogue between the Yemeni parties to reach a comprehensive and sustainable political solution that ends the Yemeni crisis.”
The Houthis have also expressed their commitment to the peace process, saying that both sides will continue their talks after Eid al-Fitr, the holiday later this week that marks the end of the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The conflict in Yemen has been marked by numerous rounds of failed peace talks and ceasefires, and it remains to be seen whether the latest efforts will lead to a lasting peace. However, the release of prisoners is a positive sign that both sides are willing to engage in dialogue and take steps towards ending the conflict.