Yemen peace talks in Sweden focus on prisoner swap deal

RIMBO, Sweden (AP) — Yemen's warring parties met Sunday for the fourth day of U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Sweden to try to hammer out details of a prisoner exchange, which could eventually include all prisoners held by both sides in the four-year civil war.

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The parties focused on the swap amid optimism on first steps toward a political dialogue. Yemen's conflict pits the Iran-backed Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, against the internationally recognized government supported by a U.S.-sponsored Saudi-led coalition.

"We are progressing toward implementation, how to swiftly group together the prisoners," said Askar Zouail, from the government delegation. "The atmosphere is positive. And we are optimistic.

Speaking later at the venue, a castle north of Stockholm, the head of the Houthi delegation said a committee was discussing the swap and that the rebels were ready for the exchange, which would include rebel fighters he said are held at undisclosed locations abroad. After signing the agreement, bodies of the dead should be identified.

"That will solve the problem of the missing," said Mohamed Abdelsalam.

The United Nations has long led a push to resolve the conflict but past attempts at constructive talks have led nowhere and officials have sought to downplay expectations from the current talks, focusing on achieving a framework for future talks toward a political settlement.

The war has killed tens of thousands and made Yemen the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 22 of its 29 million people in need of aid, according to the U.N. The airport in rebel-held capital, Sanaa, has been closed since August 2016 by order of the Saudi-led coalition, leaving the rebel-held north of Yemen heavily relying on the Red Sea port of Hodeida, which is controlled by the Houthis, for delivery of much-needed humanitarian aid and fuel supplies.

At a security forum in Abu Dhabi, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Arabian Gulf Affairs Timothy Lenderking said the United States is supportive of the "good spirit of cooperation" observed at this stage in the talks, and hoped for concrete results to help reduce the pain inflicted on civilians.

"There's a sense that what's driving this is the concern about civilian casualties. That's a responsibility on both sides in this conflict," he said.

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Associated Press writers Brian Rohan in Cairo and Aya Batrawy and Fay Abuelgasim in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.