Yemen peace talks ushered by the United Nations have been struggling amid differences over government demands for the release of senior officials held by the Iran-allied Houthis, sources monitoring the talks said on Thursday.
The dispute followed new clashes between the Houthis and forces loyal to the Saudi-backed Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, which killed at least 15 people from both sides, according to tribal and medical sources’ reports.
Peace talks began on Tuesday in Switzerland to resolve nine-month-old fighting that has killed nearly 6,000 people and displaced millions.
Direct talks between two sides have been propped up temporarily since Wednesday evening, after the Houthis refused government demands to free senior officials, including Yemeni Defense Minister Mahmoud al Subaihi and Hadi’s brother Nasser Mansour Hadi, the sources said.
The Houthis have held Subaihi and Nasser since March. Nasser was accused of conducting intelligence operations in the provinces of Aden, Lahej and Abyan.
Instead of direct talks, UN special envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed was mediating between the two sides trying to bridge differences.
One of the sources close to the talks reported that the Houthis said they were ready to release the prisoners as a permanent ceasefire was agreed.
In Marib, heavy fighting erupted east of the capital Sanaa overnight. According to tribal and medical sources, at least 15 people were reportedly killed from both sides.
The Saudi-led coalition carried out fresh air strikes to the northern Hajja province on the border with Saudi Arabia, residents said adding that gunboats struck Midi port, also in Hajja.
Both sides have been accusing each other of violating ceasefire.
On Wednesday, the Saudi-led coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al Asseri blamed the Houthis for committing about 150 violations since Tuesday and called on the UN to try to protect the ceasefire.
In response, the Houthis and fighters allied with Hadi from the so-called Southern Movement Seperatists exchanged hundreds of prisoners early on Thursday, following delays by local tribesmen angry at the exclusion of relatives from the deal, Fikri al Mutaili who involved in the swap said.
Mutaili said the Houthis released 265 residents of the former south Yemen as the Southern Movement Seperatists freed 300 Houthis in return, including 40 teenagers.
Local tribal leaders brokered the deal hoping to reflect positively on the peace talks in Switzerland.
Iranian-backed Houthis have been battling with the Saudi-led coalition since late March, in which the United Arab Emirates is also playing a big role.
According to the UN, at least 5,800 people have been killed in the on-going civil war in Yemen, nearly half of them civilians, and more than 27,000 injured since March.