Popular protests have broken out in the Yemeni island of Socotra as the local people express their rejection of the deployment of forces belonging to the United Arab Emirates.
Socotra, in the Indian Ocean, is located about 350km from the southern coast of Yemen.
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Located just off the coast of Somalia with access to major shipping routes, Socotra is also a World Heritage Site known for its unique and pristine environment.
The Emirati soldiers turned up on Thursday, forcing out Yemeni troops and taking over strategic locations including the airport and the seaport.
Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow said the Emiratis have justified their presence in Socotra on the grounds that they are part of an operation to back forces loyal to exiled Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
“The people who live here say there are no Houthis on the island,” he said.
“That means UAE forces have no reason to stay.”
Demonstrators have marched through the streets of Socotra’s capital Hadibu, rejecting what they describe as UAE intervention in the affairs of the province.
They have also condemned the deployment of UAE forces in the province without coordinating with the legitimate government or seeking its approval.
“These forces are present in Socotra and al-Mahra in numbers that can’t be understood,” said Abdullah bin Issa al-Aafra, of the Al-Mahra and Socotra People’s General Council.
“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’.”
The Yemeni government said the UAE’s military control of Socotra is unjustified, and blames the continuation of a dispute between Hadi loyalists and the UAE for growing public anger.
According to the government, three UAE military planes, tanks and more than 50 soldiers arrived in Socotra and dismissed the local staff there from their duties.
Residents of the island say the flag of the UAE and images of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, often known as MBZ, now adorn official buildings.
Ahmed Obeid bin Daghr, the Yemeni prime minister, has described the UAE troop deployment as “an assault on Yemen’s sovereignty”.
The UAE and Hadi’s government are formally allies in a war against the Houthi rebels.
Relations between the two have soured, however, due to the UAE’s expanding influence in southern Yemen, home to a resurgent separatist movement.
The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition that launched a military campaign three years ago to shore up Hadi’s presidency.
The UAE’s move to exert control over Socotra is seen by many as the latest move by the Gulf state to spread its influence well beyond its borders.