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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

UN envoy negotiates release of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s sons from the Houthis

The pair, who have been in captivity following their father's killing, were transferred to Jordan via the UAE

 (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)
 (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)

Houthi rebels have released two sons of the late former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in an international deal struck ten months after they were captured following their father’s killing, Yemeni officials said on Wednesday.

Madeen Ali Abdullah Saleh and Salah Ali Abdullah Saleh were transported to Jordan on a chartered United Nations aircraft after mediation by Omani officials, Hamza Al Kamali, a member of the Yemeni government delegation to Geneva told The National.

“The Omanis were excited to mediate the release of Salah and Madeen because they both have Omani nationalities,” he said.

“On their way to Jordan, they transited in UAE,” he added.

Other Yemeni officials told the Associated Press that UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths was integral to the deal being made.

It remains unclear if the pair will remain in Jordan or move on to a third country.

The deal was struck on the condition that the pair step down from Yemeni politics. An amount was paid to the Houthis for their release but it was unclear by whom or how much.

Mr Griffiths has become a key figure in the negotiations over any conclusion to the conflict in Yemen. He travelled to Abu Dhabi on Wednesday to meet with top Emirati and Yemeni officials to discuss the peace process in the country and confidence building measures.

The pair's exit from Yemen had been planned for earlier in the month but a last-minute issue led the Houthi rebels to block the UN plane landing to complete the deal, Sky News Arabia reported.

The Houthis had reportedly demanded that an Omani plane be sent for the transfer while the Arab coalition demanded the UN undertake the flight.

The sons had been detained in custody since the death of Mr Saleh in December 2017.

A journalist close to the family of the former president Saleh confirmed their release to The National.

Only the two sons of the former president were allowed to leave Sanaa while other members of the Saleh family remain detained by the Houthi militia, including Afash Tariq, the son of Maj Gen Tariq Mohammed Abdullah Saleh, who is a nephew of the former Yemeni leader.

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Oman had hoped to send an aircraft to transport the sons to Muscat, the Omani capital, but the Arab Coalition refused, fearing that Houthi members would be transported in the aircraft.

For 33 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh ruled Yemen with an iron grip. Skilled at weaving useful alliances and calculating risks, he was a master of the political game. But last December his luck ran out when his colleagues turned on him and ended his life.

The 75-year-old was killed in an attack on his convoy. For several hours, it was not known whether he had survived, even after grisly video footage appeared on social media showing his apparently lifeless body being bundled on to a flatbed lorry. But eventually, officials from his party, the General People's Congress (GPC) confirmed their leader was dead.

The Houthis seized Sanaa in September 2014, triggering the outbreak of the Yemen conflict.

In the following months, they took control of large parts of the country, prompting the intervention of a regional coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

Saleh had made overtures to Saudi Arabia in the weeks leading to his death.

He was born on March 21, 1942, into a North Yemen family linked to the powerful Hashid tribal confederation. He had a limited education and in 1958 joined the army as a non-commissioned officer. In 1962 he took part in the coup that ended the rule of the imams and turned North Yemen into the Yemen Arab Republic.

After Saleh's death, a number of his former minister and friends were arrested by the Houthis. In August, Brigadier Mutaher Rashad Al Masri, a former minister for Saleh, fled to the town of Marib to the east of Sanaa, a source told The National at the time. At the same time, Abdul Razak Al Ashwal, once a minister of technical training and vocational education, fled to Aden.

The two ministers were put in jail in 2015 by the rebels. But, after being held for a year, the former UN envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, brokered a deal after negotiations with the Houthis.

Al Ashwal was among five people from Yemen's Al Islah Party released from the Houthi-run prison in 2016 and placed under house arrest.