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Yemen's warring parties name 15,000 in prisoner swap deal

The exchange should be completed by January and it may include the release of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh's body
Saleh was assassinated by the Houthis last year (Reuters/File photo)

A prisoner exchange between Yemen's Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed government will involve more than 15,000 people, including Saudi and Emirati citizens and the body of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, government and rebel negotiators have said.

The Houthis have named 7,487 detainees whom they were willing to release, while the government named 8,576 prisoners, government representative Askar Zaeel told AFP news agency on Tuesday.

Saleh had been allied with the Houthis at the beginning of the conflict in 2015, but he was assassinated by the rebels last year while trying to leave the capital, Sanaa.

The Houthis released two of his sons who were in their custody earlier this month, and Saleh's nephew, Tarek, is now fighting alongside Saudi-backed forces.

The rebels and the government confirmed the prisoner swap would go ahead on Monday during peace talks in Sweden, which are set to go on until 13 December.

Brokered by United Nations special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths earlier this month, the exchange has been one of the main points at this week's talks.

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It is the largest prisoner exchange since the outbreak of the conflict between the rebels and the government, backed since 2015 by a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

"We have exchanged more than 7,000 names from each side, including some 200 high-ranking officers," said Ghaleb Mutlaq, a Houthi delegate, as reported by Reuters. He said a joint committee would investigate those that remain missing.

Delegates said the prisoner swap would be conducted via Houthi-held Sanaa airport in north Yemen and government-held Sayun airport in the south. The process will be overseen by the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Both parties said the exchange should be complete by January, pending final revisions of the lists of detainees to be released.

UN proposes withdrawal from Hodeidah

Meanwhile, the UN proposed on Tuesday for the warring sides to withdraw from the contested port city of Hodeidah, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis facing famine, and place it under the control of an interim entity.

Three sources familiar with the talks told Reuters that the proposal presented by Griffiths envisions a "joint committee or independent entity" be set up to manage the city and port after both sides withdraw.

UN monitors could be deployed in Hodeidah, they said, adding that discussions were ongoing.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Khalid al-Yamani, who is also the head of the government’s delegation at the peace talks, said on Monday that Hodeidah should be placed under interior ministry control as a matter of sovereignty.

The ambassadors of the five permanent member states at the UN Security Council are present at the talks and they have pressed the parties to agree to the UN's Hodeidah proposal, Reuters reported.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will also attend the talks in Sweden on Wednesday, AFP reported, citing diplomatic sources.

Griffiths wants an agreement on confidence-building measures and a transitional governing body in Yemen to pave the way for political negotiations to end the conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of people.