A Yemeni government minister has accused the United Arab Emirates of trying to fragment the country by creating regional and tribal armies in the south.
Yemen’s Transportation Minister Saleh al-Gabwani said the UAE-backed troops cut off his convoy on Sunday while he was en route to inaugurate a new port, in Balhaf, a town that hosts the largest natural gas plant in Yemen and a major terminal – now occupied by the UAE forces.
He said the so-called Shabwa Elite Force, one of several units that only answer to the UAE forces, told him the Emiratis ordered that he be stopped from reaching the port.
“There are tribal and regional armies set up by the Emiratis,” Gabwani later told a gathering of local and government officials. “We as a state can’t accept continuation of this situation.”
Yemen has been engulfed in a civil war since 2015 with a Saudi-led coalition that includes the UAE fighting rebels known as Houthis to restore the internationally recognised government to power.
But the government, now based in the southern port city of Aden, is at odds with the UAE forces based there – their official allies against the Houthis.
The UAE has trained and financed Yemeni troops who only answer to the Emiratis and has also backed a newly formed pro-secessionist Southern Transitional Council. Supporters of the council battled in the streets of Aden last month, calling for the Yemeni government’s resignation.
Yemen’s war has also triggered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with more than two million people displaced and millions living on humanitarian assistance.
The World Health Organization warned on Monday a cholera epidemic in Yemen that killed more than 2,000 people could flare up again in the rainy season.
Peter Salama, WHO deputy director-general for Emergency Preparedness and Response, said the number of cholera infections had been in decline in Yemen over the past 20 weeks after it hit the one million mark of suspected cases.
“However, the real problem is we’re entering another phase of rainy seasons,” Salama told Reuters news agency on the sidelines of an international aid conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“Usually cholera cases increase corresponding to those rainy seasons. So we expect one surge in April, and another potential surge in August.”
Yemen also relies heavily on food imports and is on the brink of famine. The United Nations says more than 22 million of Yemen’s 25 million population need humanitarian assistance, including 11.3 million who are in acute need.