Imprisoned Houthi rebels yell slogans in a courtroom in Sanaa
Yemen has freed scores of northern Houthi prisoners in a bid to cement a fragile truce with northern rebels, according to Yemeni government sources, Reuters reports from Sanaa.Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh declared an end to the government's long-running war with rebels in the north last month and the prisoner release is seen as a step toward supporting the ceasefire. The Houthis, however, denied the report. They said that only some dozens of prisosers - out of a total of some 600 - had been released.Sanaa, which is also battling a secessionist movement in the south, has come under heavy international pressure to end the northern war and focus on fighting a resurgent al Qaeda, which the West fears is exploiting instability in Yemen to launch attacks in the region and beyond.
Previous truces to end the northern war, which has displaced 250,000 people, have not held. Analysts are skeptical the latest ceasefire will last as it fails to address insurgent complaints of discrimination by the government.
"(Some) 236 Houthi rebels have been freed in two batches, carrying out a ceasefire signed between the two sides in February," a security source said. The rebels welcomed the move but said only a few dozen prisoners had been released so far and that hundreds more remained in Yemeni jails.The decision is a positive step, and we welcome it. But we were not officially informed and until now the (full) release has not been finished," a rebel official said. "There are a large number of prisoners. The number is around 600."
The prisoner release appeared to be a reciprocal move after rebels freed at least 170 government soldiers and tribal fighters last month, shortly after Sanaa accused them of dragging their feet in implementing the truce.
Government sources said many of the freed rebels had been held without charge and that Sanaa continued to hold others whose trials were pending. Those prisoners could be released at a later date if exonerated or pardoned.
Saudi Arabia was drawn into the northern war in November after insurgents seized Saudi border territory.
The Houthis had accused Riyadh of allowing Yemeni troops to use their territory to launch attacks against them. Their incursion provoked violent exchanges in which at least 113 Saudi soldiers were killed.
Violence between Saudis and the rebels has since calmed, and the insurgents have said on their website that Saudi Arabia recently handed over the bodies of 32 insurgents killed in clashes at the Yemen-Saudi border.