Saudi-led coalition calls for Yemen ceasefire as UN urges truce

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A man walks by a wrecked car after a deadly car bomb attack in the port city of Aden on March 24. (AP pic)

AFP 

RIYADH: The Saudi-led coalition backing the Yemeni government against Huthi rebels in Yemen’s conflict Tuesday announced a ceasefire from Wednesday morning and peace talks during the Islamic month of Ramadan starting next month.

“The coalition hereby announces the cessation of military operations in Yemen beginning at 6am Wednesday, March 30, 2022,” it said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

This “coincides with the launch of Yemeni-Yemeni consultations with the aim of creating the appropriate conditions for their success and creating a positive environment during the holy month of Ramadan for peacemaking in Yemen,” it added.

Ramadan is to start in the first days of April.

The rebels have shunned the meeting in Riyadh from Wednesday that is hosted by the Gulf Cooperation Council and involves the Yemeni government and US and UN envoys to Yemen. The Huthis say they won’t travel to enemy territory for talks.

UN envoy Hans Grundberg earlier on Tuesday evening said on Twitter: “I’m very grateful for the unanimous support expressed for UN efforts on immediate de-escalation and a political settlement of the conflict.”

The coalition’s announcement comes after an official told AFP that Saudi Arabia was waiting for “serious steps” from Yemen’s rebels on a potential prisoner swap before responding to their offer of a ceasefire.

Prisoner release talks

The Iran-backed Huthis called a three-day truce and dangled the possibility of a permanent end to hostilities on Saturday, seven years after the start of the war.

The offer was on condition that the Saudis end their blockade and airstrikes and remove coalition forces from Yemen.

On Sunday, the Huthis said an agreement had been reached to free 1,400 of their fighters in exchange for 823 pro-government personnel, including 16 Saudis and three Sudanese.

The brother of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi is among the prisoners set for release, Abdul Qader Al-Murtada, head of the Huthis’ prisoners affairs committee, wrote on Twitter.

Hadi Haig, his counterpart in Yemen’s government, said the exchange was “under consideration”.

Basheer Omar, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen which handles the logistics of swaps, said earlier the organisation was pleased “to hear that some progress has been made in negotiations between the parties on another major release”.

“We hope to soon see a release process for the detainees and their families. But we are also aware that negotiations of this kind during an active conflict are complex and require time,” he told AFP.

The last prisoner swap was in October 2020, when 1,056 people were released on each side, according to the ICRC.