Yemen's Houthis Release Hundreds of Prisoners

Houthi official says initiative 'proves our credibility in implementing the Sweden agreement and we call on the other party to take a comparable step'

Image taken from a video released by the Huthi rebels fighting the Saudi coalition in Yemen, on September 29, 2019, allegedly shows detained men near the southern Saudi region of Najran.

Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi group released hundreds of Yemeni prisoners on Monday in a unilateral move the United Nations hoped would help revive a stalled peace process. 

Dozens of men in clean, new, white clothing walked out of the prison and lined up outside, supervised by men in military uniforms.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which facilitated the release, said 290 Yemeni nationals were transferred from the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa to their homes. Those released included three Saudis, the Houthis said.

This move came after the Houthis said they will release 350 prisoners on Monday, including three Saudi Arabians, under the supervision of the United Nations as part of the peace initiative.

A prisoner swap between the Houthis and the internationally recognised, Saudi-backed government of Yemen was one of three pillars of a breakthrough deal reached in December in Sweden.

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The UN-brokered prisoner swap deal involving some 7,000 detainees on each side stalled as the two sides struggled to agree at talks on its implementation.

"Our initiative proves our credibility in implementing the Sweden agreement and we call on the other party to take a comparable step," said the head of the Houthis' prisoner affairs committee, Abdul Qader al-Murtada, in statements carried by Houthi-run al-Masirah TV.

"The 350 prisoners ... are included in the prisoner lists of the Sweden deal," he said.

The United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, welcomed the offer by Yemen's Houthi movement to unilaterally release a number of detainees, saying he hoped it would lead to further progress on an agreed prisoner exchange deal.

Griffiths also called on all parties to meet soon to discuss prisoner exchanges. "I hope this step will lead to further initiatives that will facilitate the exchange of all the conflict-related detainees as per the Stockholm Agreement," he said.

A Saudi-led Sunni Muslim coalition, which receives arms and intelligence from Western countries, intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the Yemeni government from power in the capital Sanaa in 2014.

The Houthis, who control most major urban areas, said on September 20 they would halt missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia if the alliance stopped its operations. The coalition has not yet responded to the proposal.