Yemen’s foreign minister said Tuesday that his internationally recognized government has received 54 child prisoners who had been captured by Saudi Arabia in order to free them.
Abdul Malik al-Mikhlafi, head negotiator of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government delegation in Kuwait, tweeted through his official twitter account that “the Yemeni government appreciates that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the coalition released the Yemeni children and handed them over to the Yemeni government.”
“The children, whom the Houthis used during the war, are aged between eight and 17-years-old. They will be released along with those released in Marib,” al-Mikhlafi said, referring to six child prisoners who were already released by the Yemeni government earlier in the province of Marib northeast of the Houthi-held capital city Sanaa.
He said that “the children released highlights the government’s rejection of the Houthi’s use of children in wars and the government’s commitment to international laws.”
On Monday, the UN envoy to the Yemeni conflict, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, who is in charge of the ongoing peace talks between Hadi’s Saudi-backed government and the Iranian-allied Shiite Houthi group, said that all Yemeni warring parties have agreed to the unconditional release of child soldiers.
There was no immediate response from the Houthis.
However, last week, Hadi’s government as well as the Houthis submitted lists of approximately 7,000 prisoner-release requests, including political detainees, to UN mediators.
Government officials accused the Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s party of detaining over 4,000 prisoners, mostly politicians and activists.
The UN’s latest report accused both the Yemeni warring parties of using child soldiers and UNICEF reported that 900 children were killed whilst 1,300 were wounded during the 2015 conflict.
The coalition began a military campaign against Iran-backed Houthi militias in March 2015. It sides with the President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, while the Houthis are aligned with ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted after Yemen revolution in 2012. The conflict has left nearly 4,300 dead since March, half of them civilians, according to UN figures, and forcibly displaced over 2.4 million people from Yemen.
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.
The warring parties have now been in talks in Kuwait since April under the UN’s auspices to end over one year of war.
Last month, delegates from both sides agreed in Kuwait to a considerable prisoner exchange before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
However, the process failed, and so far only child soldiers have been released by the government.
The government demands that Houthis and Saleh’s delegates comply with the UN’s Security Council Resolution 2216, which orders their withdrawal from the capital city of Sanaa and their complete disarmament in order to end the war.