November 28, 2019 / 10:56 AM / 11 days ago

Houthi prisoners released by Saudi arrive in Yemeni capital

Houthi detainees freed by the Saudi-led coalition are greeted upon their arrival at Sanaa airport in Sanaa, Yemen November 28, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

SANAA/GENEVA (Reuters) - A group of Houthi prisoners released by Saudi Arabia arrived in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Thursday, Reuters witnesses said, in a step that may encourage efforts to end a nearly five-year war in the country.

The detainees are from the Iran-aligned movement that a Saudi-led military coalition has been fighting since March 2015, after the Houthis ousted the internationally recognized government in Sanaa.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which transported the detainees from Saudi Arabia to Yemen, said 128 people were being repatriated. On Tuesday, the coalition said it had released 200 prisoners. The reason for the difference in numbers was not immediately clear.

Reuters witnesses saw two ICRC planes carrying the detainees arrive at Sanaa airport.

“The ICRC sees the release as a positive step and hopes that it will spur further releases and repatriations of conflict-related detainees,” the aid agency said in a statement. It said it had acted as a neutral intermediary and was not involved in any of the talks that preceded the release.

Riyadh has been holding informal talks with the Houthis since late September about a ceasefire, sources have said, as it seeks to exit an unpopular war after its main coalition partner the United Arab Emirates withdrew troops.

The United Nations is trying to restart political negotiations to end the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

The conflict is seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis, who control Sanaa and most big urban centers, say they are fighting a corrupt system.

Reporting by Reuters Yemen team and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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