Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 14 October 2019

Senior Houthi official defects and flees to Aden

The former member of the revolutionary council also founded a group to champion rights for Yemen's oppressed Al Akhdam caste

Houthi fighters man a checkpoint in the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Mohammed Al Kairaee was a member of the rebels' Supreme Revolutionary Committee. EPA
Houthi fighters man a checkpoint in the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Mohammed Al Kairaee was a member of the rebels' Supreme Revolutionary Committee. EPA

A member of Yemen’s rebel-controlled Supreme Revolutionary Committee has defected and fled to the liberated city of Aden, senior government sources told The National.

A source confirmed the defection late on Wednesday night and said Mohammed Al Kairaee had fled Sanaa for his home town of Taez before making his way to Aden.

Mr Al Kairaee had served as a member of the steering committee of the General People's Congress (GPC), a Yemeni political party founded by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. He was appointed to the Supreme Revolutionary Committee after the Houthi rebels seized much of the country in 2014.

Mr Al Kairaee fled because the Houthi rebels had placed him and several members of the GPC under house arrest.

His defection comes just days after outrage spread in rebel-held areas because the Revolutionary Committee ordered local commanders to round up black Yemenis of the Al Akhdam caste to fill a new front-line battalion.

Yemeni Al Akhdam, literally meaning servant, are the bottom of the country’s supposedly abolished social caste system. They have faced racism and marginalisation for years and most live in slums around urban centres where they were confined to menial and labouring jobs even before the war.

Mr Al Kairaee heads the Organisation of Black Liberal Defence in Yemen, a body that champions rights for the country’s estimated 1 million Al Akhdam. As such, he is seen as a community leader and has represented Al Akhdam in politics since before the war.

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The Houthi drive to recruit Al Akhdam comes with the rebels under increasing international pressure to hold up their end of agreements reached at UN-brokered talks in Sweden last month, including a ceasefire in the port city of Hodeidah and a prisoner exchange.

Government and rebel representatives on Thursday chalked out the next steps in the prisoner swap after two days of talks in the Jordanian capital Amman. The government side led by Hadi Haig and the rebel delegation led by Abdel Qader Al Murtada submitted their final lists of prisoners that they want released.

Yemen's Deputy Minister of Human Rights, Majed Al Fadhil, said both sides agreed to submit their feedback on the meetings within three days.

“During the next few days we will respond to the Houthis' request on the names that they have presented,” Mr Fadhil told The National.

Over the next 7-10 days, both sides expect to sign a final agreement to implement the operation, said Mr Fadhil, who is also a member of the government's prisoner committee.

The talks were attended by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which will oversee the exchange of prisoners. The prisoners are to be flown out of two airports: Seyoun in central Yemen and rebel-held Sanaa.

Yemen’s Foreign Minister, Khaled Al Yamani, accused the Houthis of refusing to co-operate after the first day of talks in Amman.

Mr Al Yamani said the rebels had refused to provide the government with details of 232 detainees, including high-profile prisoners such as former defence minister Gen Mahmood Al Soubaihi, Maj Gen Naser Mansour Hadi, who is the brother of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, and Mohammed Qahtan, the leader of Yemen's Islamist Al Islah party. They have been detained since 2015.

Mr Al Yamani said the international community had to accept that the rebels do not want peace.

"The Houthis are evasive, they are bargaining on this issue and are extorting the international community in various forms,” he said.

The prisoner swap, which involves nearly 15,000 detainees from both sides, is part of a series confidence-building measures to lay the groundwork for peace negotiations.

During the last month, details of the prisoner agreement were sidelined as UN mediators focused on implementing a truce deal for Hodeidah, the entry point for most of Yemen's food and aid, and the battleground city of Taez.

The UN Security Council on Wednesday approved the deployment of up to 75 monitors to oversee the ceasefire in Hodeidah.

Updated: January 17, 2019 08:22 PM

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