DUBAI (Reuters) - Six Saudi Arabian prisoners held in Yemen by the Iran-aligned Houthi group returned home on Wednesday, in a move welcomed by the United Nations as it pushes for political negotiations to end almost five years of war.
Facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) the six men arrived in Riyadh, the spokesman for a Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen said in a statement.
He said the exchange had been part of the Stockholm agreement, a U.N.-mediated deal reached last December in a breakthrough in peace efforts. The agreement contained a prisoner exchange which has been slowly and only partially implemented in small batches throughout the year.
“We await reciprocal steps to be taken by the enemy forces for the release of our prisoners,” the head of the Houthis’ prisoner affairs file said in comments carried by al-Masirah TV.
In late November dozens of Houthi prisoners released by Saudi Arabia returned to Yemen’s Houthi-held capital Sanaa.
“I urge the parties to continue the momentum of confidence-building until all detainees are reunited with their loved ones,” United Nations Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths said on Twitter.
Yemen has been mired in almost five years of conflict since the Houthi movement ousted the internationally-recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power in Sanaa in late 2014, prompting intervention in 2015 by a Saudi-led military coalition in a bid to restore his government.
The United Nations has been trying to re-launch political negotiations to end the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions to the brink of famine.
Meanwhile, Riyadh has been holding informal talks with the Houthis since late September about a wider ceasefire, sources familiar with the discussions have said, as it seeks to exit an unpopular war after its main coalition partner the United Arab Emirates withdrew troops earlier in 2019.
Writing by Nafisa Eltahir and Lisa Barrington, editing by Louise Heavens, William Maclean