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Tribes in Yemen’s Mahrah province fear Saudi annexation

February 20, 2020 at 4:19 pm

Smoke billows following air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen on 7 July 2015 [MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images]

A group of tribal activists opposed to the military presence of Saudi forces in Yemen’s eastern province of Mahrah have called on the local tribes to liberate the province from Saudi occupation.

According to Uprising Today, the deputy head of the Sit-In Committee of Mahrah, Sheikh Abboud Qamsiyat, told Al Jazeera that the Saudi occupation forces have more than 1,800 tanks, and have established dozens of military checkpoints. Yesterday, the Saudis deployed dozens of military vehicles to the province, known for maintaining its autonomy fiercely.

Qamsiyat explained that Riyadh is seeking to extend its oil pipeline through Yemeni territory in Mahrah in order to reach the Arabian Sea, as the Kingdom currently does not have direct access. Furthermore, the activist leader claimed, the Saudis aim to displace the local population and eventually annex the province as an emirate. “The Saudi escalation in Mahrah was an attempt to make up for its military losses at the border and on the eastern front of Sanaa,” he added.

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Mahrah has largely avoided the violence that has plagued the rest of the country in the five-year war, but it gradually became embroiled in the conflict around two years ago when the Saudis began deploying troops in the area.

The Saudis cite security concerns to justify their presence, and claim that the territory acts as a conduit for weapons being smuggled into the country from Iran via Oman to Houthi-led forces in the north. The desire to build an oil pipeline in order to export oil and circumvent the volatile Strait of Hormuz is another reason. Last year it was reported that Saudi forces have helped facilitate the arrival of Al-Qaeda affiliated elements in the province, creating further instability.

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Tensions escalated earlier this week during clashes between tribesmen and Saudi forces, close to the Oman border. Local sources told Al Jazeera that the Saudis stormed the town of Shahn “using heavy gunfire” and wounding at least one person. Additional support was provided by Apache helicopter gunships and armoured vehicles. It has been suggested that Saudi forces attempted to storm a cargo port in the town, during which they opened fire on tribesmen.

In a statement on the Committee’s official Facebook page, the actions of the Saudis were denounced as an attempted “intrusion”. The statement added that, “The committee condemns these practices and violations committed by the Saudi occupation and its militias against our people. It constitutes a flagrant violation of Yemeni sovereignty and national identity.”

The latest aggression by Saudi Arabia also drew criticism from the Houthi-led National Salvation Government (NSG) based in Sanaa. On Tuesday it released a statement describing Riyadh’s motives as an “old-new scheme” in reference to the Kingdom’s ambitions to have an outlet to the Arabian Sea. NSG Prime Minister Abdulaziz Bin Habtoor branded the Saudi escalations as a “new chapter of the violation of Yemeni sovereignty.”

In addition to the besieged port of Hudaydah in the west, it has been argued that the Saudis are intent on sealing off the Omani border by occupying Mahrah. By extension, this would also facilitate the sealing off of the rest of Yemen from the outside world.

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