As pro-government and UAE-backed STC forces battle for Socotra, governor vows to defend people of the island
As Saudi Arabia scrambles to revive the power-sharing Riyadh Agreement between the internationally recognized government and the pro-secession Southern Transitional Council (STC) on Yemen’s mainland, the two warring groups are battling for control of Yemen’s island of Socotra.
Socotra Gov. Ramzi Mahrous appeared in a video Friday after pro-government forces thwarted an attack by the UAE-backed STC forces. Surrounded by pro-government fighters, Mahrous pledged to defend against further attacks and said that Saudi forces have been deployed to secure the capital of Hadibu.
At around dawn on Friday, forces loyal to the STC attacked from the city's western entrance using heavy and medium weapons captured from the 1st Marine Infantry Brigade, a local official on the island told Almasdar Online.
While Socotra has witnessed numerous low-level clashes between government and UAE-backed forces in recent years, this is the first military battle in the island’s history.
In a letter sent Wednesday, the STC warned Saudi commander Brig. Gen. Abdul Rahman Bin Salman Al-Hajj that if Gov. Mahrous and all army checkpoints on the island were not removed by May 1, there would be consequences.
It marks the first time the STC has publicly addressed the Saudis in such a harsh tone.
The letter also called on Yemen’s President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to honor the calls of pro-STC demonstrators on the island who have demanded the removal of Mahrous. Pro-government islanders have also protested against the UAE’s presence on Socotra and in support of Mahrous.
Socotra has witnessed several attempts by the UAE-supported forces to take control of the island, including preventing a plane carrying the former prime minister from landing there in 2018. More recently, government forces on the island have faced several mutinies by pro-STC soldiers, culminating in the defection of five battalions from the 1st Marine Infantry Brigade in mid-April. Some of those defectors battled against government forces on Friday.
Since late 2015, Emirati citizens and companies have been buying land on the island and providing public services to local residents, as well as allowing tourists to enter the island without visas from the Yemeni government. The political situation has grown increasingly toxic.
Edited by Ahlam Mohsen and Casey Coombs