Alwaght- On the eve of the 8th anniversary of war on Yemen, Ansarullah Movement’s representatives are negotiating a prisoner swap deal with their enemies to help alleviate the destructive effects of war. A new round of UN-mediated negotiations between the movement and the fugitive government of Yemen started on Saturday in Geneva, Switzerland. Majed Fadil, deputy human rights minister and a member of Sana’a delegation to the talks said that negotiations will continue for 11 days, adding that they were looking forward to release all of the prisoners for sustainable and comprehensive peace in Yemen. A Yemeni source said that in this round, new lists of prisoners will be discussed and a larger number would be released, and other lists will be reviewed in hope of implementation of an agreement.
Abdul Qader al-Murtaza, the head of Prisoner Affairs Committee in Sana’a-based National Salvation Government (NSG), said that prisoner case has been suspended since last March and indeed made no progress until recently. According to this Yemeni official, the suspension of the case came while an agreement was previously signed for the exchange of more than 2,200 prisoners of both sides under the auspices of the UN. According to the leaders of Sana’a, the mercenaries of the Saudi-led aggression are disrupting the implementation of swap deal on the order of Riyadh, and they have mentioned Saudi Arabia as responsible for this delay and deliberate disruption.
The UN envoy to Yemen Hans Grundberg who is the interlocutor of the negotiations has asked the two sides to engage in serious talks to agree on as many prisoners for swap as possible. He also reportedly asked the two sides to commit to their obligations not just to each other but to thousands of Yemeni families who have been waiting their members for reunion.
International Committee of the Red Cross Spokesperson Jason Straziuso called the swap deal talks a change to assuage the humanitarian plight caused by the war.
The intra-Yemeni talks began a day after Iran and Saudi Arabia, with China mediation, agreed to restore diplomatic ties after seven years of severance. Having in mind that the war in Yemen was one of the important issues discussed in the five rounds of political meetings between the representatives of Iran and Saudi Arabia, with the improvement of relations between the two countries, Yemen crisis is expected to see a progress towards a settlement.
Prisoner swap process during war
The prisoner swap deal was part of the broader UN-mediated agreement that put an end to several-month clashes over the strategic Hudaydah city on the Red Sea coast in 2018. The deal asked the warring sides to free unconditionally all they captured during the clashes. However, despite holding several rounds of talks between Sana’a and the Saudis regarding the exchange of prisoners in the past years, they only resulted in a deal once, and the first group of Yemeni army and people’s committee prisoners, including 108 people, entered Sana’a airport on October 15, 2019 by a Red Cross plane. In the following days, about 300 more Yemeni prisoners returned to their country and were welcomed by the Yemeni army and the Popular Committees.
At the time, hundreds of Saudi prisoners were transferred with the Red Cross mediation to Hadhramout which is occupied by the Saudi Arabia. In general, 400 Yemenis and 681 Saudi mercenaries were swapped under the deal.
The last round of these talks was held last October with the mediation of Oman, and hundreds of prisoners from both sides were supposed to be released, but the Saudis did not take any steps forward, and the talks were suspended until recently that the Saudis decided to reactive them. According to figures, there are about 2,200 prisoners in the prisons of Yemen and Saudi Arabia waiting a deal to return home.
Prisoner swap a prelude to end 8-year war
Any deal in the middle of war on various issues can bring about hopes for an agreement for peace. Analysts say that if the talks between Sana’a and the Saudi coalition on the exchange of prisoners are successful, hundreds of Yemenis will be released and this will be a big step towards more comprehensive negotiations to end the devastating war.
Ansarullah and Riyadh agreed to a ceasefire on April 22 which held up for six months, but Sana’a rejected to extend it due to the Saudi decline to fulfill its obligations. Yemeni leaders have repeatedly said that they will not agree to an imposed ceasefire and will not sign any documents until Yemen can benefit from the achievements of the agreement. Ansarullah has announced the lifting of the blockade, the payment of salaries of government employees and the reopening of airports as conditions for the extension of the ceasefire, but the Saudis have not agreed to these demands in practice despite their apparent claims of seeking peace, making it difficult to strike a deal.
The previous round did not lead to release of prisoners as Yemeni parties accused each other of publishing fake name lists and even swapping the kidnapped civilians for fighters. In the previous round of negotiations, which was held near the end of the six-month ceasefire, Saudi Arabia tried to make concessions to Ansarullah in hope of extension of the ceasefire, but due to treacherous Saudi actions, Sana’a did not extend the ceasefire. This time, too, the Saudis yielded to the negotiations for the fear of resumed Ansarullah missile attacks.
That the Saudis returned to the negotiating table is because they have concluded that war continuation is not in their interests and they try to save themselves from the self-made quagmire of war. Saudi officials know very well that Ansarullah now has the upper hand in the battleground developments and poses a substantial threat to Saudi Arabia’s security and territorial integrity with the missile and drone progress it made over the past year. Before this, the Saudis have seen Ansarullah missile strength in attack on Aramco oil giant’s facilities twice and do not want to try this bitter experience for the third time. After all, in the present conditions that the world is struggling with an energy crisis, strikes on the Saudi oil infrastructure can impose a heavy cost on the region and the world.
Another issue putting Saudis in political and security dire straits is the considerable downturn of the American supports to the Arab aggression coalition, and given the fact that these days Saudi Arabia is leaning to China in the middle of Washington-Beijing competition, odds are the US would alter its security arrangements in the Persian Gulf, perhaps in a way not in favor of the Saudis. Therefore, the Saudi leaders eye a showdown to Yemen war before eruption of a new security crisis in the region.
Conclusion of the swap deal and release of hundreds of Yemenis from Saudi prisons marks a triumph for Ansarullah that managed to undo this knot. All these achievements are thanks to Sana’a military breakthroughs that blocked implementation of aggressors’ plots in Yemen.