UAE says military presence on Yemen's Socotra 'distorted'

Dubai (AFP) –


The United Arab Emirates, facing criticism from top Yemeni allies over its presence on the island of Socotra, said Sunday its role on the strategic Yemeni territory had been "distorted".

The UAE is key part of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, launched in 2015 to roll back Huthi rebel gains and restore the internationally-recognised government to power.

Splits have emerged, however, in the pro-government camp.

In January, the government's de facto capital of Aden was rocked by deadly clashes that saw UAE-backed forces seize much of the city from other pro-government forces.

On Friday, a Saudi delegation travelled to Socotra to diffuse new tensions on the island after the UAE deployed forces without informing the government of President Abedraboo Mansour Hadi.

The delegation met with Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher in the presence of an Emirati official, Yemen's Saba news agency reported.

Bin Dagher nevertheless took to social media on Sunday to question the UAE military presence he witnessed during an official visit to Socotra.

"On [April 30] ... the first Emirati military aircraft arrived carrying two armoured vehicles and more than 50 Emirati soldiers, followed immediately by two other aircraft carrying tanks and armoured vehicles and soldiers," Bin Dagher said in a statement published to Facebook.

"This raised a number of questions, and left the island in a state of anxiety."

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.

Like Aden, it become a flashpoint of contention in the anti-Huthi camp.

"The continuing disagreement and its spread to all the liberated provinces down to Socotra, is clearly harmful ... and something that can no longer be hidden, and its impact has spread to all military and civil institutions," Bin Dagher said.

"Correcting this situation is everyone's responsibility."

The UAE Foreign Ministry said it was "surprised" by the Yemeni prime minister's statement and blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for drumming up anti-Emirati sentiment over Socotra.

"These malicious campaigns, which are led by the Muslim Brotherhood... are part of a long and repeated series of attempts to distort the role of the UAE," it said, adding:

"The UAE military presence in all liberated Yemeni provinces, including Socotra, comes within the efforts of the Arab Coalition to support legitimate government at this critical stage in the history of Yemen."