News of the prisoners' release followed a Thursday announcement that a deal had been reached to implement the power sharing agreement

Prisoner swap in Aden signals early victory for renewed push to implement Riyadh agreement

The exchange of dozens of prisoners between Yemen’s army and forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council (STC) in Aden and Shabwa governorates has raised the prospect that the Saudi-brokered peace deal aimed at preventing a new civil war in southern Yemen could survive the fate of similar agreements that have died on the vine.

News of the prisoners' release followed a Thursday announcement by Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed Al-Jaber, that a detailed agreement had been reached to implement the military annex of the so-called Riyadh agreement, signed two months ago by the Yemeni government and the UAE-backed STC, which has sought secession. 

Read an unofficial translation of the Riyadh agreement here

Among the agreed upon points in the new deal is the exchange of prisoners captured by both sides in August, when the STC seized control of the interim capital Aden from government forces and clashes spiraled in surrounding governorates. That the prisoner exchange happened just a few days after the Thursday announcement is a major achievement, given that there have been almost no visible signs of progress toward any of the Riyadh agreement’s political, military and security aims since it was signed on Nov. 5 in the Saudi capital. 

The new agreement seeks to implement a range of military and other goals by Jan. 31, including the collection of heavy and medium weapons from the warring parties, the exchange of prisoners, the return of troops to agreed upon positions and the appointment of a governor and security director for Aden.

Agreement on the agreement

Dr. Ahmed Obaid Bin Dagher, an adviser to President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, said the latest agreement will prevent an inclination toward further military clashes, which have plagued attempts to implement the deal in recent weeks.

The Yemeni government and the STC have accused each other of obstructing the implementation of the Riyadh agreement, in part because a number of the terms of the agreement are overly broad, leading to differing interpretations. The new agreement appears to clarify some of that ambiguity.

Abdulsalam Mohamed, head of the Yemeni think tank Abaad Studies and Research Center, said the new deal is merely an attempt to save the agreement from failure. Nothing that the Riyadh agreement set out to implement by this point, other than the return of the prime minister and a few other ministers, has been achieved, he said. 

The announcement of the second signing coincided with rising tensions in the region and fears of a war between Iran and the US. That may have helped Saudi Arabia to press for the renewed push to implement the Riyadh agreement, given that the situation allows little room for chaos in the liberated areas of southern Yemen that the Iran-backed Houthis could exploit.

A high-level diplomatic delegation, including ambassadors and experts in the European Union, arrived to Aden Sunday to support the renewed push for the implementation of the power sharing deal. The delegation includes the European Union ambassador to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, the French ambassador to Yemen, Christian Testo, and the non-resident Swiss ambassador to Yemen, Balz Abplanalp.



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