109 Yemeni prisoners traded for 9 Saudis amid war, Saudi Arabia says
Saudi soldiers stand alert at the border with Yemen in Najran, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, April 21, 2015. (AP / Hasan Jamali)
Abdullah Al-Shihri, The Associated Press
Published Monday, March 28, 2016 2:27AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 28, 2016 6:01AM EDT
SANAA, Yemen - A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia that is fighting a war with Yemen's Shiite rebels said Monday that it has traded 109 Yemeni prisoners taken during the fighting in the neighbouring country for nine Saudis who were held captive.
It was the latest prisoner exchange ahead of a scheduled April cease-fire and peace talks, coming just after tribal authorities and Yemeni officials said suspected U.S. drone strikes killed least 10 suspected al Qaeda militants in the country.
A coalition statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency said the trade happened on Sunday, but it did not explain how the Saudis ended up in custody in Yemen. It said the Yemenis held had been detained in "areas of operations near the border of Saudi Arabia."
The exchange comes as the Saudi-led coalition and Yemeni rebels, known as Houthis, have agreed to a cease-fire at midnight on April 10 ahead of peace talks starting April 18 in Kuwait. Earlier this month, another exchange saw Saudi Arabia release seven Yemenis for one of its soldiers.
In its statement, the coalition said it hoped the tentative calm now in Yemen would allow "aid to reach all Yemeni territories" and would support United Nations' efforts to end the fighting.
In the chaos of Yemen's war, a powerful al Qaeda affiliate has seized a large swath of territory across the country's south and east, while an upstart Islamic State branch has carried out a series of attacks.
Tribesmen and security officials said that suspected U.S. drone strikes late Saturday night into Sunday morning targeted an Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula camp in the Mahfad area of Yemen's southern Abyan province. They said that at least 10 suspected al Qaeda militants were killed and others were wounded in the strikes targeting "Wadi al-Dayqa," which means "the Narrow Valley" in Arabic.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren't authorized to publicly discuss details of the strike.
The al Qaeda affiliate said on Twitter later Sunday that U.S. drones struck its fighters as they prepared to attack Houthis in Bayda to free their compatriots.
The U.S., while pulling out advisers from Yemen as the civil war there ramped up, has continued its drone strike program targeting its local al Qaeda affiliate, which Washington believes to be the most-dangerous branch of the terror organization.
Mahfad has been a major site for training camps for al Qaeda in Yemen. Last week, more than 40 suspected al Qaeda militants were killed in a U.S. drone strike in the province of Hadramawt. In April 2014, another suspected drone strike in Mahfad killed more than 50 suspected al Qaeda militants.
Meanwhile, several projectiles fired from Yemen landed in Saudi Arabia late Sunday night, wounding eight people, the Saudi Press Agency said.
Yemen's conflict pits the government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, against the Houthis, allied with a former president. The Houthis took over the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in September 2014, and the U.S.-backed coalition began airstrikes against them in March 2015.
More than 6,000 people have been killed in fighting, millions are displaced and the Arab world's poorest country has been pushed to the brink of famine.
Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.