Some 100 troops from the United Arab Emirates were recently sent to the Yemeni island of Socotra, sparking protests among locals. The troops were accompanied by several military aircraft.

UAE troops deploying in Socotra

UAE troops deploying in Socotra Photo Credit: Twitter/@YemeniObserver

The United Arab Emirates has deployed around 100 troops and four military aircraft to the Yemeni island of Socotra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As the conflict in Yemen has been raging for years, Socotra has remained a relatively quiet front of the civil war. As a result, the sudden arrival of military units on the island was a surprise to locals and officials alike and has led to a spontaneous burst of protests on the island.

The UAE has had a strong presence in Socotra since the beginning of the Yemeni civil war. The government in Abu Dhabi has indicated that it plans to lease Socotra for 99 years from Yemen and has already adorned the island with UAE flags and pictures of Abu Dhabi’s ruler. The island is strategically located to allow easy access to the Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian Ocean, making it a contested economic and geopolitical target. As a result, control of the island has been largely left outside of the Yemeni war but has allowed the UAE to quietly step in and assert political control on the island.

Earlier in the year, Yemen alleged that the UAE had attempted to convince residents of the island to take a referendum on “self-determination.” Yemen’s Prime Minister recently visited the island and was greeted by supportive crowds who feared that the UAE was plotting with the Saudis to overtake Socotra’s independence. Activists on the island have tweeted pictures of the UAE military operations, which can be seen below:

So far, the Yemeni government has stated that it has not sold the island to anyone and has strictly affirmed its right to control it. No UN action has been planned.