Yemeni warring parties have launched prisoner swap talks in Geneva with Iran-backed Houthis including their self-proclaimed Central Bank Governor Hashim Ismail Ali Ahmed as part of their negotiating delegation.
Delegates from Yemen’s internationally recognized government sat down in Geneva with their rivals for talks co-chaired by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). But Ahmed’s presence at the talks spurred controversy among attendees.
Well-informed sources tied the Sanaa-based governor’s attendance to the ongoing financial crisis Houthis are experiencing. Yemeni activists and researchers have cast many doubts over Ahmed accompanying the Houthi delegation.
“It is really strange for a Houthi leader who is posed as a central bank governor to partake in this type of conversation that is far from economic,” Yemeni writer and political analyst Hamdan al-Alyi told Asharq Al-Awsat.
Alyi explained that Ahmed’s presence at the talks is evidence to claims that Houthis are looking to exploit the UN and international organizations to carry out their personal political and economic agendas.
He also said it is an attempt by Houthis to break out of their isolation and get rid of their labeling as coupists by the international community.
UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths, for his part, tweeted his hopes for the Yemeni parties to "release detainees swiftly" and "bring relief to thousands of Yemeni families."
Yemeni political analyst Lutfi Nomaan, in statements to Asharq Al-Awsat, confirmed that resuming prisoner swap talks is a positive indicator for implementing an agreement that was put on ice due to the coronavirus.
“There is no doubt that moving this humanitarian issue sends a positive sign in the implementation of an agreement that was postponed after a long interruption imposed by the pandemic,” Nomaan said.
A deal to trade 15,000 prisoners was considered a breakthrough during 2018 peace talks in Sweden. The negotiations produced a sequence of confidence-building measures, including a cease-fire in the strategic port city of Hodeidah. But ongoing military offensives across the country and deep-seated mutual distrust has repeatedly delayed the exchange.
Yara Khawaja, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen, said she welcomed the negotiations “for the sake of the families waiting for loved ones to return home.”
“It’s in the hands of the parties to the conflict to bring long-lasting positive change,” she added.
The office of the UN envoy said it was unclear how long the Geneva talks would take.