January 16, 2019 / 2:36 PM / in a month

Yemen combatants start talks in Jordan on prisoner swap deal

Delegates from the Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government meet to discuss prisoner swap deal in Amman, Jordan January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

AMMAN (Reuters) - Yemen’s warring sides started talks in Amman on Wednesday on how to implement a prisoner exchange that will allow thousands of families to be reunited as part of U.N.-led peace efforts, U.N. officials and delegates said.

Delegates from the Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government met in the Jordanian capital to discuss the swap, which was agreed in U.N-led talks in Sweden in December.

“The two parties exchanged the list of prisoners in Sweden and they’re now discussing steps to implement it,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.

Western nations, some of which supply arms and intelligence to a Saudi-led coalition backing the government, have pressed the two sides to agree confidence-building steps to pave the way for a wider truce and a political process to end the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people.

As part of that effort, the two sides exchanged lists of some 15,000 prisoners for a swap that delegates said would be conducted via the Houthi-held Sanaa airport in north Yemen and the government-held Sayun airport in the south.

The measures also included a plan to withdraw from the contested port city of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions facing famine, and place it under the control of an interim entity.

Hadi Haig, the head of the Yemen government delegation, said the two sides were verifying the prisoner lists as part of a five-stage process before the swap takes place.

The swap would be overseen by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The operation will require the Saudi-led coalition to guarantee that air space is secure for flights, the ICRC said.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Additional reporting by Nichols, Michelle in New York, Editing by William Maclean

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