Yemen's warring sides should move swiftly to implement a swap of more than 1,000 prisoners after an agreement at talks in Switzerland, the United Nations envoy to the country said on Sunday.
Yemen's warring parties have agreed to exchange some 1,000 prisoners, including 19 Saudi soldiers, a partial implementation of trust-building measures agreed during peace talks held in Sweden at the end of 2018.
"I am extremely pleased to be here to honour that you have reached a very important milestone", UN Envoy Martin Griffiths told reporters, hailing the progress in negotiating the release of the first batch of 1,081 detainees.
The rebels have okayed the release of 400 government prisoners, including 15 Saudi nationals and four Sudanese nationals, while the Saudi-backed government will free 681 Houthi fighters, a member of the government delegation said.
United Nations envoy Martin Griffiths and an official from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are due to hold a news briefing later on Sunday at the end of a week-long meeting in Switzerland of the committee overseeing a prisoner swap deal first agreed at peace talks in December 2018.
The deal presents "a life changing step" for hundreds of detainees and their families, said Fabrizio Carboni, the ICRC regional director for Near and Middle East.
The talks started in an undisclosed location in Switzerland on September 18 aimed at agreeing the release of 1,420 prisoners.
The two sides will now free 1,081 detainees and prisoners, UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths said in a joint news briefing with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) after a almost 10-day meeting of the prisoners' exchange committee held in the Swiss village of Glion above Lake Geneva.
In unilateral moves, the Houthis previous year freed 290 prisoners and Saudi Arabia released 128, while a locally mediated swap in Taiz province saw dozens freed. Among them is the brother of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi. In January 2020, the ICRC facilitated the release of six Saudis held by the Houthis.
Griffiths is trying to restart political negotiations to end the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and caused what the United Nations describes as the world's largest humanitarian crisis, with millions on the brink of starvation.
Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Houthis removed the internationally recognised government from power in the capital, Sanaa in late 2014, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene in March 2015.