UAE-backed separatists stage 'coup' in Yemen’s Socotra: Former official

Yemen's former Saudi-backed government says the militants funded by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have staged “a full-fledged coup" in the strategic island of Socotra.

Yemen’s official news agency quoted an unnamed official of the former government as saying on Saturday that the UAE-backed separatists of the so-called Southern Transitional Council (STC) had "carried out a full-fledged coup that undermined state institutions in the province."

The militants launched an attack with various medium and heavy weapons, targeting state institutions and citizens' properties, and stormed Saudi-backed camps and headquarters, the source said.

The official called on the Saudi-led coalition waging war on Yemen to help "stop the mess" and chaos as a result of the offensive. 

A local source told Turkey's state-owned Anadolu Agency that the gunmen of the STC had arrested Colonel Abdel-Rahman al-Zafni, the commander of the Saudi air force camp in Socotra, and transferred him to an unknown location.

On Saturday, STC militants took control of Saudi-backed militant camps in Socotra archipelago, a UNESCO World Heritage site, according to an unnamed security official.

By day's end the separatists had taken control of most of the province from Saudi-sponsored militants. No casualties were reported, said the official.

Socotra Governor Ramzi Mahrous condemned the separatist attacks and called for the immediate release of the province.

'Saudi-led coalition betrayed Yemenis'

He criticized the Saudi-led coalition waging war on Yemen, saying the impoverished country had been betrayed by those who were expected to support it.

"The archipelago, which was of great historical importance, is in complete chaos," he said.

The people of Socotra will never surrender their land, he said, adding that the province would never welcome criminal militants and their supporters.

The violence in Socotra comes after the UAE-backed separatists declared self-rule in Yemen’s south earlier this year and seized control of the city of Aden, sparking fears of fresh chaos in a country already embroiled in five years of conflict.

Last summer, the UAE announced it was ending its role in the conflict. However, observers believe the Persian Gulf Arab country continues to be active through its proxies.

Before its withdrawal, the UAE set up a military base in Socotra, which enjoys a strategic location overlooking a vital international shipping lane.

It also awarded Emirati citizenship to hundreds of residents and has recruited scores of others to help consolidate its grip over the island.

The separatists have long sought southern Yemen to secede.

Recently and after a decision by the UAE to effectively withdraw its forces from Yemen, the group turned its weapons on rival militants loyal to the ex-president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The infighting has highlighted deepening divisions between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the two countries that are leading the war on Yemen.

Ties between the two sides have soured over a number of issues, including what the Yemenis view as Abu Dhabi’s intention to occupy Socotra Island and gain dominance over major waterways in the region.

The island was part of Yemen’s eastern province of Hadhramaut but it was introduced as an independent province in a 2013 presidential decree.

Home to some 60,000 people, Socotra sits at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden. The island has a unique ecosystem and been listed by UNESCO as a world natural heritage site.

There are reports that Hadi leased the islands of Socotra and Abd al-Kuri to the UAE for 99 years before resigning and fleeing the country to Riyadh in 2014.

Supported militarily by the United States, Britain, and other Western countries, Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating war on Yemen in March 2015 in order to bring Hadi back to power and crush the Houthi Ansarullah movement.

The invaders have also enforced an all-out aerial, naval, and land blockade on the impoverished country.

The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organization, estimates that the war has claimed more than 100,000 lives over the past five years.

More than half of Yemen’s hospitals and clinics have been destroyed or closed at a time when Yemenis are in desperate need of medical supplies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Warplanes of the Saudi-led coalition have been hovering over the capital Sana'a and other provinces almost constantly since Monday morning, and have targeted several areas around the capital such as al-Nahdain Mountain, Attan Mountain and the Aviation College.

Earth-shattering airstrike hits Sana'a

On Tuesday, residents of Sana'a were left terrified after the coalition fighter jets struck al-Nahdain Mountain in the middle of the capital, the heaviest airstrikes in years.

On Thursday, Yemen's al-Masirah television said 77 airstrikes had targeted several provinces in Yemen in 24 hours, including Sana'a, Sa'ada, Amran, al-Beidha, Hajjah, Marib and al-Jawf.

One of those airstrikes hit a vehicle in Sa'ada province on Monday, killing 13 civilians including four children, sparking international condemnation.

The attack happened the same day as the Saudi-led coalition, which is primarily made up of Saudi and UAE forces, was removed from the UN’s Children and Armed Conflict report’s blacklist for the first time in three years.

Mohammed Abdul-Salam, the spokesman of Yemen's Houthi Ansarullah movement, condemned the UN for removing Riyadh from the blacklist, accusing it of being “an accomplice with the killer.”

The United Nations knows all too well the pain that the coalition has inflicted on children, and “there is no reason that the UN should remove the aggression from the list of shame”, he said.

“The United Nations secretary-general is now responsible for any crime against Yemeni children,” he said.


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