politics

Yemen Hits U.A.E. Takeover of Its ‘Most Alien-Looking’ Island

Updated on
  • U.A.E. deployed soldiers and military equipment to the island
  • Dispute shows problems within Saudi-led coalition in Yemen

Yemeni Island of Socotra.

Photographer: Khaled Fazaa/AFP via Getty Images

Yemen’s government-in-exile slammed the United Arab Emirates’ takeover of Socotra, a remote Yemeni island in the Arabian Sea sometimes described as the “most alien-looking place on Earth.”

The U.A.E. military’s seizure of the seaport and airport on Socotra is an “unjustified” assault on Yemen’s sovereignty, its exiled government said in a statement from Prime Minister Ahmed Bin Dagr’s office. It was a rare criticism of its partner in the fight against Houthi rebels who control large swaths of the country.

The takeover “reflects the disagreement between the legitimate government and our brothers in the U.A.E., and at its core is a dispute over national sovereignty and who has the right to practice it,” the statement said.

The Foreign Ministry of the United Arab Emirates denied the accusation in a statement posted on the official news agency WAM late Sunday.

“The U.A.E plays a parallel role in the Yemeni island of Socotra to maintain security and stability, support development projects, and help the people of the island,” the ministry said. It added that its military presence “comes within the efforts of the Arab Coalition to support the legitimacy at this critical stage in the history of Yemen.”

Tanks Rolling

The U.A.E. deployed more than 50 soldiers, tanks and other military equipment to the island on April 30 and expelled personnel at the seaport and airport, the Yemeni government said. The takeover ratcheted up tensions between the U.A.E. and Yemen’s government-in-exile, which is based in Saudi Arabia. The U.A.E. supports southern separatists in Yemen who engaged in deadly clashes this year with government forces.

Yemen previously had refrained from criticizing the U.A.E. in deference to its participation in the Saudi-led military campaign to restore the internationally recognized government of Yemen President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, which was ousted by Iran-backed Houthi rebels more than three years ago.

The U.A.E.’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash also defended his country’s action on Twitter, pointing to “family and historic relations” with Socotra and its people.

The Yemeni government said military coordination with the U.A.E. has been “absent” and asked Saudi Arabia to intervene with the U.A.E. to help rectify the situation in Socotra.

The Socotra archipelago of four islands and two islets was listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) in 2008 as a world heritage site because of its rich and distinct flora and fauna, much of which can’t be found anywhere else on the planet.

— With assistance by Zaid Sabah

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