Muslim Times(Web Desk) – Military transport planes from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) landed on the sleepy Yemeni island of Socotra last week, unloading tanks and troops as part of the Persian Gulf Arab state’s drive to extend its influence over a strategic waterway flanked by war zones.
The UAE, with a population of less than 10 million but the Arab world’s second-largest economy, thanks to oil, is deploying its soldiers and cash to create a web of bases and armed allies in Yemen and Somalia as what it calls a bulwark against extremists, according to diplomats as well as Somali and Yemeni former government officials.
But backing groups at loggerheads with their national governments threatens to bog down the UAE in the seemingly endless conflicts of two of the world’s poorest countries.
Turkey on Friday expressed concern over the situation on Yemen’s Arabian Sea island of Socotra after the UAE deployed troops there.
“We are closely following the recent developments in Yemen’s Socotra Island,” Daily Sabah quoted the Turkish Foreign Ministry as saying in a statement, without explicitly referring to the UAE.
“We are concerned about these developments that pose a new threat to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Yemen,” it added.
Lying between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, Socotra Island, best known for its otherworldly plant life, appeared far from the war until the UAE troops arrived, in a landing reported by media.
Residents stage protest
Residents of Yemen’s strategic Socotra Island have staged a protest to vent their outrage at the UAE for deploying military forces there.
The demonstrators took to the streets of the Socotra town of Hadibu on Monday, denouncing the UAE meddling in their domestic affairs.
The UAE deployed some 300 soldiers, along with tanks and artillery, to Socotra amid widening divisions with the Riyadh-sponsored forces loyal to the former Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are key members of a coalition that has been waging a deadly war on Yemen since March 2015 in support of Hadi and against the Houthi Ansarullah movement.
Taking distance from Hadi
Tensions have mounted between Yemen and the UAE since last week, when the latter sent the military force to Socotra without prior coordination with Hadi.
Analysts told AFP that Abu Dhabi has recently taken its distance from Hadi, with the UAE backing separatists who took control of the south from Hadi in January.
Hadi accused the UAE of seizing the island’s ports and airport. A source told Reuters that the UAE move was a power-play for “commercial and security interests” and accused the UAE of trying to colonize Yemen.
The UAE has built up local army units in Yemen, increasing its influence along the Red Sea coast, but also opening up a rift with the country’s exiled government.
A Dubai-style resort
While the UAE’s motives for taking control of the island were not immediately clear when the news broke last week, it appears the UAE wants to turn the island into a Dubai-style tourist destination.
Yemeni officials and islanders told Verdict that UAE developers are laying the groundwork to begin building hotels and apartments on the paradise island, known for its rare fauna and flora.
Across the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, through which much of the world’s oil flows, the UAE also has a foothold in northern Somalia, where Emirati firms have set up commercial ports and its troops conduct military and training missions.
The UAE is deepening ties with the semi-autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland after state-owned Emirati firms DP World and P&O Ports signed deals there in 2016 and 2017, followed by UAE troops.
This relationship, which includes investing hundreds of millions of dollars in Somaliland for projects such as a highway to Ethiopia and new airport, has angered the central government in Somalia – closely aligned with Turkey – and the UAE has ended its military training mission in Mogadishu.
Reuters, Daily Sabah, Verdict and Press TV contributed to the story.