Yemeni government accuses UAE of landing separatist troops on island of Socotra

Yemeni government accuses UAE of landing separatist troops on island of Socotra
The UAE has landed 100 separatist troops on the Yemeni island of Socotra in defiance of the government of President Hadi, who it nominally backs in the Yemeni civil war.
3 min read
UAE-backed southern separatist fighters in Aden (Getty Archive)

The Yemeni government has accused the United Arab Emirates of landing around 100 southern separatists on the island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea this week.

The UAE is one of the Arab countries nominally fighting on behalf of Yemen's internationally recognised government against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement that controls the Yemeni capital, Sana’a.

But relations are tense between the UAE, which is pursuing its own agenda in war-torn Yemen, and the government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The UAE has recruited thousands of fighters from a separatist southern movement and these have clashed with government troops. In January 2018, southern separatists took control of the city of Aden, where Hadi’s government had fled following the 2015 Houthi take over of Sana’a.

Yemeni officials said around 100 separatist fighters had disembarked in civilian clothes on Monday from a UAE naval vessel on Socotra. This took place while the Hadi government’s Prime Minister, Ahmed Bin Daghir, was visting Socotra.

The remote island, close to the coast of Africa, is a UNESCO world natural heritage site protected by the UN body for its unique flora and fauna.

It was not the first time the government of President Hadi has complained about UAE troop movements on Socotra.

Last year the government accused the UAE of seizing the island when it unloaded tanks and troops there. Saudi Arabia, leader of the pro-Hadi Arab coalition, had to send troops to Socotra to defuse a standoff between Emirati and Hadi forces.

Two Yemeni government sources said on Wednesday that the UAE had trained a batch of 300 troops bound for Socotra in Aden last week, and sent more than 100 of them to the island on Monday.

On Wednesday hundreds of Yemenis marched through Socotra’s main city, Hadiboh, in protest at the presence of UAE-backed forces. They gathered at the Summer Land Hotel, where Prime Minister Bin Daghir was staying and expressed their faith in the government’s ability to “protect national sovereignty, unity, safety, security and stability in Yemen.”

Yemen's interior minister last week criticised the UAE and said it should concentrate on fighting the Houthis.

"I think our partnership with the coalition is the war against the Houthis and not sharing the administrations of the liberated territories," Ahmed al-Mayssari said in comments broadcast by Yemeni television channels.

In previous statements, the UAE has denied Yemeni accusations that it is seeking control of the island.

The separatists say they have more than 50,000 fighters armed and trained by the UAE and aim to restore the independent state of Southern Yemen, which united with northern Yemen in 1990 .

Clashes between Hadi's forces and the southern separatists are relatively rare but on Wednesday they fought each other in the southwestern al-Dhalea province over control of government buildings, a statement from Hadi's forces said.

The statement added Hadi forces left al-Dhalea after the clashes but were ambushed again on the way to Aden by the southern forces and "many were killed and wounded". It gave no further details.

The UAE has been at odds with Hadi because of his alliance with the Islah party. The UAE sees Islah as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which it considers a terrorist organisation.

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