Sanaa, Oct 15 (efe-epa).- The largest prisoner swap operation between the Yemeni government and their rival Houthi rebels started on Thursday, two weeks after the warring sides came to an agreement.
In September, delegates representing the rival sides agreed to release 1,081 conflict-related detainees and prisoners, following United Nations-brokered talks in Switzerland.
Two planes belonging to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), carrying out the swap, took off from Yemen’s Sanaa and Seiyum airports.
ICRC spokesperson Yara Khaweja told Efe that the first two planes departed at 12:30 local time after a two-hour delay with 108 prisoners on board each.
Another plane went to Saudi Arabia’s Abha carrying 15 Saudi and four Sudanese prisoners.
Both countries are part of the international Arab coalition that supports the government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi in its fight against the Iran-backed Houthis.
According to the agreement, the Houthis will release a total of 400 prisoners, while the government and the international coalition will release 681 Houthis.
ICRC called the process, which is expected to continue until Friday, the largest operation of its kind during the five-and-a-half-year war in Yemen.
UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, welcomed the exchange saying it is “another sign that peaceful dialogue can deliver”.
“I congratulate the families who will soon be welcoming their long-awaited loved ones. I hope parties will soon reconvene under UN auspices to discuss the release of all-conflict related prisoners and detainees and bring relief to thousands of families that are still waiting to reunite with their loved ones,” he added in a statement on Twitter.