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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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Saudi Arabia swaps prisoners with Houthis amid lull in fighting

Exchanged prisoners with its Houthi opponents

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RIYADH Saudi Arabia has handed over seven Houthi prisoners in exchange for a captured officer - as part of measures aimed at ending Yemen's year-long war.> Big News Network

Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said on Wednesday it had exchanged prisoners with its Houthi opponents.

The Saudi state news agency SPA reported Wednesdaythat the prisoner swap was mediated by Yemeni tribal leaders but provided few additional details.

The tribal delegation reportedly helped negotiate a lull in fighting to allow humanitarian deliveries to parts of Yemen near the border.

SPA quoted a Saudi statement as saying "the leadership of the coalition forces welcomed the continuation of a state of calm along the border ... which contributes to arriving at a political solution."

The move comes as Saudi Arabia began direct talks with Houthi rebels over the war in Yemen near the Saudi-Yemeni border on Monday.

"The talks focus on ways of ending the war and starting an immediate ceasefire," Houthi spokesman Mohammed al-Shire'i said. The coalition indicated only that the negotiations had created a "state of calm" in the border area to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The talks are the most serious bid so far to end the raging conflict that began when the Houthis drove Yemen's government from the capital, Sana'a, in February 2015 triggering a Saudi-led military intervention.

Nearly 6,000 people have died in more than a year of fighting in Yemen, leading to a humanitarian catastrophe affecting nearly 80 percent of the population. Nearly 7.6 million people suffer from food insecurity.

On Wednesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir stressed his country's support for UN efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the Yemeni crisis.

"The kingdom remains committed to reach a political solution in Yemen," Jubeir said at a news conference in Riyadh, adding that the kingdom would continue to support UN efforts to end the conflict.

The announcement was made after a meeting in Riyadh of the Arab foreign ministers to discuss regional issues, Xinhua reported.

A Saudi-led coalition against the Houthis in Yemen welcomed on Wednesday the state of "calm" on the Saudi-Yemeni border to reach a political solution under the UN.

The coalition said Yemeni tribes inhabiting the Saudi-Yemeni border region were mediating the talks - a development that could lead to a possible avenue for a negotiated settlement of the conflict.

But, spokesman for the Saudi coalition Brigadier Ahmed Asiri told reporters that the state of calm and the Saudi commitment to a political solution in Yemen does not mean there are any negotiation on with the Houthis.

Iran suggested Tuesday it may send military advisors to help the Houthis, underlining the ongoing regional rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh.

But senior Houthi official Yousuf al-Faishi wrote in a Facebook post that Iranian officials "should keep silent" in an effort to distance the movement from Iran amid the talks with Saudi Arabia.

Past United Nations-sponsored talks have failed to resolve fighting.

Saudi Arabia has accused its regional rival Iran of supporting the Houthi rebels. Houthis have denied the accusations.

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