The United Arab Emirates has reportedly withdrawn most of its troops from Yemen’s Socotra island under a deal and let Saudi forces take over the oasis of breath-taking beauty, a Turkish news agency reports.
The UAE forces left the island on Thursday under the agreement between Abu Dhabi and Saudi-backed former Yemeni government, Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency said.
The deal was reached following the mediation of Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Mohammed al-Jaber, it added.
Supporters of Saudi-backed former Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and the UAE, a key part of the Saudi-led coalition in war on Yemen, were locked in a dispute over the Emirati troop deployment to Socotra earlier this month.
Hadi loyalists have accused the UAE of abandoning an initial cause to fight Yemen’s Houthi fighters, saying Emirati forces were instead providing support to those seeking a separation of southern Yemen territories from the north.
Saudi forces will now be replacing the Emiratis under the Friday’s agreement. Riyadh also promised what it called security training for the locals following the departure of the Emirati forces.
Last week, Saudi authorities confirmed that the country had deployed troops to Socotra amid anger over the UAE’s military build-up on the island as rivalry grew between the two allies.
Turki al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi operations in Yemen, said on Sunday that Saudi forces had landed on Socotra on a mission to train and support loyalists to Hadi.
Socotra, home to some 60,000 people, 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.
Shipping traffic passes by the island on the way to the Bab al-Mandab Strait and Suez Canal, giving it added strategic importance.
Reports have said the UAE sought to exploit the natural resources of the island and turn the place into a permanent military outpost-cum-holiday resort.
The island has largely escaped the Saudi war, which has destroyed Yemen’s infrastructure and killed over 14,000 people in the poor Arab country.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are key members of a coalition that has been waging a deadly war on Yemen since March 2015 but divisions have emerged in the face of clashing vested interests.
Residents of the strategic island have already staged angry protests against the deployment of foreign troops but it has yet to be seen how they would react to the presence of the Saudi troops.