Saudi Arabia has released 104 Yemeni detainees in a unilateral move aimed at supporting ongoing dialogue and efforts to end the long-standing conflict in Yemen. The move follows simultaneous detainee exchanges between Yemen’s warring parties and a three-day operation overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to return nearly 900 detainees held in relation to the conflict. The release of the 104 Yemeni detainees is a significant confidence-building measure amid the peace talks between Saudi envoys and Houthi officials.
The military coalition, which intervened in Yemen in 2015 after the Iran-aligned Houthis ousted the government from the capital Sanaa, said the additional release was to support dialogue in continuing efforts to end Yemen’s conflict. A Saudi delegation seeking a permanent ceasefire deal to end military involvement in the war concluded peace talks in Sanaa with the Houthi group on Thursday. The top negotiator for the Houthis said the talks had made progress, and further discussions would be held to iron out remaining differences. The head of Yemen’s Houthi Supreme Political Council, Mahdi al-Mashat, said on Saturday that another round of talks would come after the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which starts later this week, according to Yemen’s SABA news.
Yemen’s conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and left millions hungry, and it has widely been seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Last month, Riyadh and Tehran agreed to restore diplomatic ties severed in 2016, raising hopes that Yemen’s peace process would see progress. Warring parties agreed at negotiations in Switzerland last month to free 887 detainees and to meet again in May to discuss further releases. Negotiators had hoped for an “all for all” deal involving all remaining detainees during talks, the latest in a series of meetings that led to releases of prisoners in 2022 and 2020 under a UN-mediated deal known as the Stockholm Agreement.
While any respite for an exhausted population, including through release operations like these, is something to be supported, ultimately only a political solution will end the suffering in Yemen, said Fabrizio Carboni, the ICRC’s regional director. The coalition said in a statement on state news agency SPA that it would like to see the detainee issue concluded. The Houthis’ deputy foreign minister said on Twitter that the 104 Yemenis were to be released outside of the main prisoner exchange deal.
In conclusion, Saudi Arabia’s release of 104 detainees to Yemen is a unilateral move aimed at supporting dialogue and efforts to end the conflict in Yemen. It follows simultaneous detainee exchanges between Yemen’s warring parties and a three-day operation overseen by the ICRC to return nearly 900 detainees held in relation to the conflict. While this is a significant confidence-building measure, ultimately, only a political solution will end the suffering in Yemen.