Residents of Yemen’s strategic Socotra Island have staged a protest to vent their outrage at the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for deploying military forces there.
The demonstrators took to the streets of the Socotra town of Hadibu on Monday, denouncing the UAE meddling in their domestic affairs.
Earlier this month, the UAE deployed some 300 soldiers, along with tanks and artillery, to Socotra amid widening divisions with the Riyadh-sponsored forces loyal to the former Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are key members of a coalition that has been waging a deadly war on Yemen since March 2015 in support of Hadi and against the Houthi Ansarullah movement.
Hadibu residents condemned the deployment of Emirati troops to Socotra, with Abdullah bin Issa al-Aafra, of the al-Mahra Province and Socotra People’s General Council, describing the build-up as illegal.
“These forces are present in Socotra and al-Mahra in numbers that can’t be understood,” he said. “There are illegitimate troops in these areas. Are there forces that belong to the Houthis to be fought by the coalition here? The answer is a big ‘no.’”
Socotra, home to some 60,000 people, sits at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden. Shipping traffic passes by the island on the way to the Bab al-Mandab Strait and Suez Canal.
The island has a unique ecosystem and has been listed by UNESCO as a world natural heritage site.
The self-proclaimed Yemeni prime minister, Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, described the UAE troop deployment as “an assault on Yemen’s sovereignty.”
Meanwhile, a senior official with the ex-Yemeni government told The Associated Press on Saturday that the Emiratis have taken over all the vital institutions in Socotra, including the airport, ports and the pro-Hadi administration’s headquarters, and have set up direct flights from Abu Dhabi to the island.
He further noted that the pro-Hadi officials were “considering sending a letter to the United Nations demanding the dismissal of the Emiratis from the Yemeni intervention.”
Another pro-Hadi official told Al Jazeera, “The UAE has occupied the airport and seaport of Socotra Island,” adding, “What the UAE is doing in Socotra is an act of aggression.”
Socotra residents say the UAE flag and images of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan adorn state buildings.
The Saudi-led military campaign has killed and injured over 600,000 civilians, according to the Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights.
Several Western countries, the US and the UK in particular, are accused of being complicit in the aggression as they supply the Riyadh regime with advanced weapons and military equipment.