Saudi Hands Over Houthi Prisoners as Yemen Peace Efforts Inch Ahead

Mohammed Abdul-Salam (L), head of the Houthi delegation to scheduled peace talks in Kuwait, speaks at a news conference at Sanaa Airport, Yemen, April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

DOHA, April 30 – Yemen’s Houthi movement said on Saturday its foe Saudi Arabia had handed over 40 prisoners as part of an agreement to quell border fighting as U.N.-backed peace negotiations to end Yemen’s civil war crept forward.

The Iran-allied Houthis and Yemen’s Saudi-backed exiled government are trying to broker a peace and ease a humanitarian crisis in the Arab world’s poorest country where conflict has drawn in regional powers and killed at least 6,000 people.

“We received 40 prisoners, 20 of those were captured inside Yemen,” Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam said in a statement. He did not say where the remaining prisoners had been captured.

On Saturday, a Houthi delegation in Kuwait, where the talks are being held, presented a plan to the United Nations for a transitional government to oversee a handing over of arms and freeing of political prisoners before elections.

The Houthis have demanded the exclusion of Yemen’s exiled president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, from a vote, a negotiating source told Reuters.

Yemen’s government want the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to hand over weapons and withdraw from cities captured last year before starting any dialogue, the source said.

“The atmosphere was positive… everyone renewed their commitment to cease hostilities,” said United Nations envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

“We are working to develop a framework that builds on commonalities. Does this mean we removed all obstacles to a political solution? No, but we are getting there.”

The stability of Yemen, where al Qaeda and Islamic State are vying for influence, is of international concern as the country neighbours Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, and is also near key shipping lanes.

Riyadh and a coalition of Arab states entered Yemen’s civil war a year ago in an attempt to restore President Hadi after the Houthis and forces loyal to Saleh ousted him from power.

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