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Sudan and the UAE battle for control of Yemen airport

March 7, 2017 at 3:29 pm

Aden International Airport in southern Yemen [osamahadrami/Twitter]

The Sudanese army has a legitimate right to take over supervisory control of the Aden International Airport in southern Yemen, sources in the Sudanese capital Khartoum said.

The claim comes days after a faction of the southern Yemeni army which was protecting the airport, under the supervision of the UAE army, came under attack from Sudanese soldiers who are part of the Saudi-led coalition and are allied with the officially recognised President of Yemen, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The clashes are the latest in on-going tensions between rival Yemeni groups in the south and followed official orders from Hadi for the current head of the airport, Salah Al Emeeri, better known as Abu Qatan, to step down as head of the facility.

Read: UN urges access to Yemen ports to allow food aid in

Speaking about the latest incident, Al Emeeri, who has refused to relinquish control of the airport, told local news outlets that the Sudanese forces opened fire on southern Yemeni troops inside the airport before being pushed back and forced to flee. However, he confirmed that some Sudanese forces were still inside the facility.

He claimed the situation was under the control of his forces who were exercising self-restraint. He vowed never to allow the Sudanese to take over and said he would maintain control of the military and the security operations in southern Yemen. His group has been protecting the airport, under the supervision of the UAE army, ever since the liberation of Aden in 2015 from Houthi rebels loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Salih.

Vying for control

Last month, similar clashes, took place between rival factions vying for control of the airport. It led to the Saudi-led coalition intervening for the first time in the dispute. The coalition fired from an Apache helicopter on a military vehicle killing up to three people, according to unconfirmed reports. There was no confirmation about the number of casualties.

A Sudanese Army source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told MEMO that despite standing agreements of cooperation between the UAE and the Sudanese, the Sudanese Army believes it has the right to take full supervisory control of the operation. He claimed they were entitled because the Sudanese troops were credited as the leading army in the coalition to enter the city of Aden, helping repel the Houthis and restore Hadi to power. The source also suggested that the Sudanese are acting under the authority of the head of the Saudi coalition forces council based in Riyadh. MEMO was not able to verify this claim.

However, the source pointed to the genuine differences that have emerged between the UAE and the Saudi Arabian government over the support for Hadi. The UAE had given Saudi Arabia an ultimatum that would require the Saudis to withdraw their support for Hadi or see the UAE pull its troops from Yemen.

Read: US steps up attacks on Al-Qaeda in Yemen

Last week, Hadi returned from a visit to the UAE which was described as an attempt to iron out differences. However, after just a few hours, he left Abu Dhabi for Saudi Arabia without making an official statement about the outcome of his visit.

The conflict between the Houthis and the elected government is also seen as part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia. Gulf Arab states have accused Iran of backing the Houthis financially and militarily, though Iran has denied this.