Tensions erupt over UAE 'occupation' of Yemen's Socotra

Tensions erupt over UAE 'occupation' of Yemen's Socotra
Yemeni government officials say sea and airports on the remote Socotra island have been "occupied" by UAE forces this week.
2 min read
Yemen's Socotra island is a UNESCO world heritage site [Getty]

A Saudi delegation is on the strategic Yemeni island of Socotra as tensions erupt over the United Arab Emirates' "surprise" deployment of more troops there.

Three Emirati cargo planes carrying military equipment and 100 troops landed on Socotra on Wednesday evening, as the prime minister of the internationally recognised government, Ahmed bin Dagher, visited the island.

The apparent surprise deployment was carried out without the knowledge of the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, which controls the island, a Yemeni government source told AFP.

The delegation led by Saudi general Ahmed Abderrahman al-Shiri met on Friday with Dagher in the presence of an Emirati official, Yemeni news agency Saba reported.

Saba said the delegation was told by the Yemeni government and Socotra officials "of what has recently happened on the island".

According to a Yemeni government official speaking to Al Jazeera, UAE forces have occupied sea and airports on the remote island, and blocked Dagher from leaving on Friday.

"The UAE has occupied the airport and seaport of Socotra island, despite the Yemeni government's presence there. What the UAE is doing in Socotra is an act of aggression," the official said.

Read more: Has the UAE colonised Yemen's Socotra island paradise?

Residents of the island are angry over the UAE's "occupation", arguing that there were no Houthi rebels on the island to justify such a deployment.

Socotra, which sits at the exit of a bustling shipping lane that leads from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean, has been spared the violence that has ravaged mainland Yemen.

Socotra lies off the southern coast of Yemen [click to enlarge]

Although the UAE has been a pillar of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis, it has recently taken its distance from ally Hadi.

The Emiratis have instead been expanding their influence in southern Yemen and also back separatists who wrenched control of the south from Hadi in January.

Meanwhile the UAE state minister for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash on Friday highlighted in a tweet on Friday the "historic links" between his country and Socotra.

"We have historic and family links with the residents of Socotra and we will back them during Yemen's ordeal which was sparked by the Houthis," he said.

The Yemen war has claimed nearly 10,000 lives since Riyadh and its allies intervened in March 2015, triggering what the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.