Saudi Arabia has deployed troops to Yemen’s Socotra amid anger over the UAE’s military build-up on the island as rivalry grows between the two allies.
Turki al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi operations in Yemen, said on Sunday that Saudi forces had landed on Socotra on a mission to train and support loyalists to ex-president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.
He said that Saudis, Emiratis and Yemenis would carry out joint training exercises. This comes as these forces have squared up against each other in the past and clashed in Aden.
The Saudi deployment comes after the UAE sent some 300 soldiers, along with tanks and artillery, to Socotra earlier this month in a move that drew the ire of Yemenis.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been waging a deadly war on Yemen since March 2015 in a bid to shore up Hadi against the Houthi Ansarullah movement.
The war has killed and injured over 600,000 civilians, according to the Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights. The Saudi-led aggression has triggered what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The UAE deployment came amid widening divisions between forces loyal to the UAE and those supporting the former Yemeni president. Both camps are based in southern Yemen and mostly in Aden as the capital Sana’a still remains under the control of the Houthi Ansarullah movement.
Hadi’s loyalists have accused the UAE of abandoning an initial cause of fighting the Houthis, saying Emirati forces are instead providing support to those seeking separation of Yemen’s southern territories from the north.
Reports have suggested that the UAE has been actively cementing its presence in Socotra since the very beginning of the Saudi-led military campaign in March 2015.
The UAE boosts its military presence in Socotra amid divisions with Saudi-backed forces in Yemen.
Socotra, located near Somalia in the Gulf of Aden, is protected by the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO as a world heritage site, meaning that even the Yemeni government is not allowed to interfere in the natural habitats and places of natural beauty in the area.
The occupation of Socotra comes against the backdrop of previous reports showing the UAE was seeking to illegally exploit the natural resources of the island and turn the place into a permanent military outpost-cum-holiday resort.
The UAE deployment sparked angry reactions among the residents of Socotra where residents took to the streets to protest the increasing presence of the Emirati forces.
A Persian Gulf country rich in oil, the UAE has initiated similar extraterritorial projects in other areas including in Eritrea, Djibouti, Somaliland and the Yemeni islet of Perim.