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Tensions rise on Yemen's Socotra after UAE deployment

The move has exacerbated a split between the UAE and its ally the Yemeni government
UAE soldiers conduct exercises near Abu Dhabi. Emirati troops deployed to the island of Socotra on Wednesday without informing the Yemeni government (AFP)

A Saudi delegation is on the strategic Yemeni island of Socotra in a bid to defuse tensions which erupted after the United Arab Emirates deployed troops there, Yemeni state media reported.

The UAE is a key partner in a Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting Houthi rebels since 2015 to restore Yemen's internationally recognised government to power.

A Yemeni government source told AFP news agency that the UAE deployed forces in Socotra without informing the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, which controls the island.

An anonymous Yemeni official, quoted by Al Jazeera, described the UAE of carrying out an "act of aggression".

"The UAE has occupied the airport and seaport of Socotra island, despite the Yemeni government's presence there. What the UAE is doing in Socotra is an act of aggression," Al Jazeera reported.

Socotra, which has been spared the violence that has ravaged mainland Yemen, sits at the exit of a bustling shipping lane that leads from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean.

A site of global importance for biodiversity and sometimes referred to as the "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean," it lies around 350km off Yemen's southern coast.

The delegation led by Saudi General Ahmed Abderrahman al-Shiri met on Friday with Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher in the presence of an Emirati official, Saba news agency reported.

It said the delegation was informed by the Yemeni government and Socotra officials "of what has recently happened on the island".

Anger among locals

Talks also focused on "tensions that have existed in Socotra since the prime minister and his delegation arrived" on the island on Wednesday, Saba said.

The government source said the UAE forces arrived in Socotra as the premier landed in the island for a visit.

That sparked anger among residents who argued that there were no Houthi rebels on the island to justify such a deployment, the source added.

Although the UAE has been a pillar of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis, it has recently distance itself from Hadi, analysts have said.

Hadi in return has accused UAE officials of behaving like occupiers in Yemen, Middle East Eye revealed last year.

The UAE has worked closely with the Yemeni army and trained southern troops but also backs separatists who wrenched control of the south from Hadi in January.

Meanwhile, the UAE state minister for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, highlighted in a tweet on Friday the "historic links" between his country and Socotra.

"We have historic and family links with the residents of Socotra and we will back them during Yemen's ordeal which was sparked by the Houthis," he said.

The Yemen war has claimed nearly 10,000 lives since Riyadh and its allies joined the conflict in March 2015, triggering what the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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