Saudi-Led Alliance Confirms Yemen Prisoner Swap

DUBAI (Reuters) -

A Saudi-led military coalition on Monday said it had completed a prisoner swap with Yemen, exchanging nine Saudi prisoners for 109 Yemeni nationals ahead of a planned truce and peace talks aimed at ending the year-long war with Houthi rebels.

The statement did not say which group the deal was made with, but the Iran-allied Houthi movement said on Sunday it had exchanged prisoners with its enemy Riyadh, as a first step toward ending a humanitarian crisis prompted by the conflict.

The Iran-allied Houthis are battling Yemeni government forces backed by a Saudi-led military coalition.

Saudi Arabia received its nationals on Sunday, the coalition statement published on Saudi Arabia’s state news agency SPA said. The alliance “hopes to begin a truce in conflict areas of the Republic of Yemen,” it added.

Yemeni media said that the nine men were soldiers. The released Yemenis had been detained during operations in Yemen, SPA said.

News site Yemen Now published a photo of a group of smiling, waving men in white robes and keffiyeh head scarves, which it said was of the soldiers. Reuters was not immediately able to verify the image.

The agreement is one of several prisoner swaps between the two sides since late last year in a conflict which has killed more than 6,000 people and triggered a humanitarian crisis in the Arab world’s poorest country.

Last week the United Nations said the warring parties had agreed to a cessation of hostilities starting at midnight on April 10 and peace talks in Kuwait as part of a fresh push to end the crisis following two rounds of failed talks last year.

The leader of the Houthis said on Friday he wanted peace efforts to succeed but said his group was ready to confront its enemies if violence persisted.

The main battle between the Houthis and the Yemeni government backed by the coalition has led to a power vacuum in parts of the country, allowing al-Qaida and Islamic State-linked terrorists to take advantage.

Air raids killed 14 men suspected of belonging to al-Qaida in southern Yemen on Sunday, medics and local residents said, in one of the largest U.S.-led assaults on the group since a civil war broke out a year ago.