Angry protests have erupted on the Yemeni island of Socotra after the United Arab Emirates deployed four military aircraft and more than 100 troops to the famed UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Residents told Al Jazeera that the four Emirati aircraft arrived illegally on the island on Wednesday in an attempt to intimidate officials from the internationally recognised government who were making a rare visit to the archipelago.
Hundreds of Yemenis had come out to welcome Ahmed bin Daghr, Yemeni prime minister, and 10 of his ministers and to denounced the UAE’s presence on the island.
Videos posted on social media showed protesters chanting slogans in support of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and a unified Yemen.
Residents told Al Jazeera that the crowds were angry after reports emerged that Emirati forces had expelled Yemeni soldiers assigned to protect the main island’s airport.
سقطرى تهتف لليمن بحضور ابن دغر.
شعب نبيل،يعاني ويهتف لوطنه.
بالله عليكم مثل هذا الجمهور ألا يستحق أن تكونوا معه؟
إنه يبحث عنكم.
عودوا إليه. pic.twitter.com/VqUzzW6pcL
— Dr Mohammed Jumeh (@MJumeh) May 2, 2018
Located due east of the Horn of Africa in the Arabian Sea, the island of 60,000 people, which is known for its unique flora and fauna, has been administered by Yemen for much of the last two centuries.
But since the UAE entered Yemen’s war in March 2015 as part of a Saudi-led coalition seeking to remove Houthi rebels, Abu Dhabi has exploited the security vacuum and tried to gain a foothold in the strategically placed island.
The UAE has confirmed carrying out military operations on Socotra, with local media reporting that the UAE had leased Socotra and the nearby Abd al-Kuri island for 99 years.
The flag of the UAE and images of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan adorn official buildings and busy thoroughfares.
According to Human Rights Watch, Abu Dhabi has financed and trained a network of militias that only answer to it, set up prisons, and created a security establishment parallel to Hadi’s government.
Earlier this year, Yemen’s tourism ministry warned that the UAE had tried to convince islanders “to vote on a referendum of self-determination”, calling it a “dangerous step.”
Andreas Krieg, an academic at King’s College London, said the latest developments in Socotra were part of a much larger strategy to consolidate power in southern Yemen.
“The UAE see themselves, or want to see themselves in the future, as the link between the east and the west.
“It’s very important for them to control trade links which mostly go through the suez canal and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait between Yemen and the Horn of Africa.
“What they’ve done is found an island that is very strategically located, acts as a quasi-aircraft carrier in the middle of the Indian ocean and where they can control traffic while giving favourable access to countries that are related to them.”