Local News Political Analysis

Qatari Mediation Frees Hundreds of Houthi Prisoners

Sources in the Houthi Movement confirmed on Thursday the release of 428 of their partisans from government jails in Sa’adah and the capital, Sana’a.

The move follows talks earlier this week in Aden between a high-level diplomatic delegation from Qatar and the Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his top civilian and military advisers.

Talks are said to have agreed on the eventual release of over one thousand Houthi prisoners from government jails, some of whom have allegedly been in state custody for over eight years.

Described as a meeting focusing on the progress of confidence-building measures between the government and the Houthis, the gathering aimed at solidifying the tenuous peace that has largely held between the two sides since a truce was announced this February.

The agreement had ended the sixth round of the conflict, which had been waged on and off since 2004, and had claimed thousands of lives in the Northern governorate of Sa’adah and its surroundings.

Qatari Mediation in 2008 had led to a brief cessation of hostilities, which quickly broke down and led to renewed hostilities, in which neighboring Saudi Arabia intervened heavily for a period of several months.

Neither Houthi nor official Yemeni spokespeople have issued official statements on the negotiation process, or on the timing of the prisoner release.

But a spokesman speaking on behalf of the Houthi movement, Mohammed Abdel Salam, announced in a statement that his group had returned ten military vehicles in the Harf Sufyan region which had been captured during fighting earlier in the year, in exchange for the released prisoners.

Local sources in Saada confirmed that all detention facilities in Sa’adah city were now free of Houthi prisoners, and that government aircraft had conveyed some 270 Houthi partisans from Sana’a to Sa’adah, where they were released upon arrival.

A correspondent for the al-Masdar newspaper reported that prisoners freed from the Political Security office in Sa’adah city were treated to an official celebration and luncheon at the Youth and Sports center in the town, after which their supporters launched fireworks in their honor.

The total number of Houthi activists held in state jails reportedly stands at three thousand, according to the Yemeni Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms.

For its part, the opposition Joint Meetings Party demanded the release of all those arrested during the war in Sa’adah province, in accordance with the agreements and the Qatari mediation in this regard.

The spokesman for the Dialogue Committee of the JMP, Muhammed Sabri, confirmed that the move is an essential step towards peace in Sa’adah, normalization the civilian life there, and resolving problems within the national framework.

He also appealed to continue the efforts that will rebuild what was destroyed by the war, to return displaced persons to their villages and homes, and to compensate them for their losses.

Sabri said, “the time has come for us to compensate citizens in the governorates of Sa’ada, al-Jawf,  and Amran, and to acknowledge their right to live in tranquility and stability away from conflicts and wars that wasted resources and national wealth, and which left behind blood, destruction and ruin,” calling for the parties to continue their efforts towards achieving peace and reconciliation.