UAE confirms military activities on Yemen's Socotra island
Emirati military recruits are being trained on a Yemeni island, UAE authorities said on Monday, confirming its activities in Socotra after several years of rumours.
The training on Socotra Island, described as "intensive" by the UAE's state-run WAM news agency, includes battle skills, weapons training and first aid.
Socotra, an island 300 miles off the southern coast of Yemen and listed as a UNESCO world heritage site for its unique flora and fauna, has recently been the topic of dispute due to the UAE’s influence on the island.
UAE forces and aid organisations have been on Socotra Island, which sits near the mouth of the Gulf of Aden, since a deadly cyclone struck in November 2015.
Unconfirmed reports claim that President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi leased the island to the Emiratis for some 99 years before fleeing the country to Riyadh in 2014.
Prior to that, aerial images allegedly showing Emirati military bases on the island were widely shared on social media, causing anger among Yemenis accusing the UAE of attempting to ‘appropriate’ the heritage site.
The UAE, while hosting some 5,000 US troops, is increasingly flexing its own military muscle in the region by opening bases abroad.
Emirati forces have military outposts in several areas in Yemen as part of an ongoing Saudi-led war waging war on Houthi rebels across the country, which has left more than 10,000 dead since March 2015.
But relations between Hadi and the UAE have been tense in recent months, after allegations by the Yemeni president that Abu Dhabi was offering patronage to southern Yemeni politicians campaigning for secession.
Last week, the UAE-backed Aidarous al-Zubaidi formed a Southern Transitional Council after a presidential order dismissed him from his post as the governor of Aden.