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UAE forces beef-up presence in Yemen’s Socotra Island

UAE soldiers seen during a training excercise with US troops [Thomas Mudd/Marines.mil]
UAE soldiers seen during a training excercise [Thomas Mudd/Marines.mil, File photo]

The United Arab Emirates has increased its military troops in Yemen’s scenic Socotra Island amid on-going tensions with internationally recognised President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi of Yemen, the Washington Post reported today.

“Emirati cargo flights have unloaded tanks, armoured transports and heavy equipment on Socotra,” a Yemeni official said on condition of anonymity.

Locals have accused the UAE of stealing Socotra’s natural resources, including plants and seeds to take back to the Emirates, according to the Independent. But Socotra is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) protected territory which makes it unlawful to disrupt. Some locals deem the UAE’s presence as a front to exploit Socotra and use it for future tourism enterprises.

Although the UAE was invited to enter the Yemen war as part of the Saudi-led coalition, its presence has gradually been rejected after it sidestepped Hadi and supported a rival Southern Transitional Council which calls for secession from the north of the country. Internationally recognised Hadi called out the UAE as an “occupier” and not a “liberator” last year.

Flirting with Socotra

The UAE has been vying over Socotra’s inhabitants by first building a military base, an intelligence communications centre and even conducting a census. Socotra’s inhabitants have also been flown to Abu Dhabi for free to access healthcare and potential work opportunities which can be lucrative for them.

Early this year, Yemen’s Ministry of Tourism called on the UAE to stop destroying Socotra and spoiling the natural resources on the Island. The General Council of Mahra and Socotra rejected a call last year to merge or form a UAE-backed military force in the southern governorates.

While the UAE’s Jebel Ali port continues to thrive in the Gulf, a new port on Socotra could uptick maritime commercial business in the Red Sea region amid on-going threats posed by the Houthi armed group. The Houthis continue to control the strategic port at Hudaydah which the Saudi-led coalition has long-sought to retake.

Socotra is an archipelago of four Islands which is part of Yemen and a subdivision of the Aden governorate. Some 60,000 Socotra inhabitants have lived in peace for years until the outbreak of the Yemen civil war and inception of foreign states.

Read: Saudi Arabia arrests Qatar man on Yemen-Oman border

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