Saudi Arabia has handed 54 child prisoners over to the Yemeni government, a Yemeni government source has said.
The move was followed by the removal of a Saudi-led coalition — currently fighting Yemen’s Shia Houthi group — from a blacklist of children’s rights violators.
“The Yemeni government received 54 child prisoners, including two Africans, from Saudi Arabia,” the source, who spoke anonymously due to restrictions on speaking to media, told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.
The released children had been employed as child fighters by the Houthis and their allies before being captured by Saudi-led coalition forces.
Neither the Yemeni government nor Saudi Arabia, however, has yet to officially confirm the handover.
On Monday, UN mediator Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said Yemen’s warring rivals had agreed to release all child prisoners at faltering peace talks currently underway in Kuwait.
“The unconditional release of children was agreed upon and the mechanics of their release in coming days was addressed,” Ould Cheikh Ahmed said in a statement.
Also on Monday, The United Nations said it had removed the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen from a child rights blacklist pending a joint review by the world body and the coalition of the cases of child deaths and injuries.
The U.N. report on children and armed conflict – released last Thursday – said the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year, killing 510 and wounding 667, and half the attacks on schools and hospitals.
Following a complaint by Saudi Arabia, however, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon agreed to a joint review by the world body and the coalition of the cases cited in the annual report of states and armed groups that violate children’s rights in war.
“Pending the conclusions of the joint review, the secretary-general removes the listing of the coalition in the report’s annex,” Ban’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
But Saudi Arabia’s U.N. ambassador, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, said the removal of the coalition from the blacklist was “irreversible and unconditional.”
“We were wrongly placed on the list,” he told reporters. “We know that this removal is final.”
Yemen has been racked by chaos and bloodshed since late 2014, when the Houthis and their allies overran capital Sanaa and other parts of the country, forcing President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and his Saudi-backed government to temporarily flee to Riyadh.
In March of last year, Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies launched a massive military campaign in Yemen aimed at reversing Houthi gains and restoring Hadi’s embattled government.
In April of this year, the Yemeni government and the Houthis entered into UN-sponsored peace talks in Kuwait aimed at resolving the conflict, in which more than 6,400 people have been killed and another 2.5 million forced to flee their homes.