DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. citizens, one British national and three Saudis held for months by Yemen’s Houthi group were freed on Sunday and have arrived in Oman, U.S., British and Omani officials and Houthi sources said.
Their release appeared to be a goodwill gesture ahead of talks between Yemen’s dominant Houthis with the United Nations envoy to Yemen on efforts to end nearly six months of fighting.
Oman’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement it had worked with Yemeni authorities in Sanaa to ensure the release of the Americans.
The ministry statement, carried by ONA state news agency, added that three Saudi nationals and the Briton held by Houthi authorities were also freed and flown to Muscat aboard the same flight.
The three Westerners had been held by the Houthis since the early days of a Saudi-led military campaign in March on charges of entering the country without proper visas.
The White House said the release of the two Americans was arranged with the help of Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said. A spokesman for the White House National Security Council also called for the immediate resumption of peace talks aimed at ending the fighting in Yemen.
One of the freed U.S. citizens is Scott Darden, 45, said the Louisiana-based logistics company that employs him. The other freed American is Sam Farran, 54, a security consultant from Michigan, according to the Washington Post.
A third U.S. captive was still believed to be held by Houthi rebels, with many governments and organizations working to free that individual, said a person familiar with the matter.
Britain’s Foreign Office confirmed that a British national had traveled to Oman from Yemen and said that embassy staff had met the flight. It gave no further details.
Darden had been helping oversee the transport of humanitarian supplies in Yemen for New Orleans-based Transoceanic Development, which confirmed his release.
Darden’s wife, Diana Loesch, posted on Facebook: “It’s official my husband has finally been freed and Yemen and he’s on his way to Muscat!!!”
A Saudi-led coalition intervened militarily in Yemen in March to shore up President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi after the Houthis, backed by supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, launched a push against his southern stronghold in Aden.
More than 4,500 people have been killed in the fighting since March, according to U.N. figures.
Reporting by Sami Aboudi and Eric Walsh; Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Dubai, Katie Reilly in New York, Peter Cooney in Washington and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Andrew Roche and Eric Beech