There is a hidden plan between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to divide Yemen, the ambassador of the UN’s cultural agency in Yemen has told Al Jazeera.
In an interview on Wednesday, UNESCO ambassador Ahmad al-Sayyad said, “there is synergy between the roles of Saudi Arabi and the UAE. There is a veiled vision to divide Yemen.”
Al-Sayyad’s comments come after a crisis over the island of Socotra, southwest of Yemen. The UAE deployed 300 soldiers, along with tanks and artillery, to the famed UNESCO World Heritage Site at the beginning of May.
Emirati forces seized all vital institutions there, including the airport, the ports and the government headquarters, according to residents.
The move triggered angry protests.
“We will send an international delegation to Socotra before it turns into a threatened heritage,” al-Sayyad said.
Located east of the Horn of Africa in the Arabian Sea, the island of 60,000 people, which is known for its unique flora and fauna, has been administered by Yemen for much of the last two centuries.
But since the UAE entered Yemen’s war in March 2015 as part of a Saudi-led coalition seeking to remove Houthi rebels and restore power to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Abu Dhabi has exploited the security vacuum and tried to gain a foothold in the strategically placed island.
On Monday, Yemen’s Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid bin Ddaghr, however, said the crisis had been resolved.
Referring to shifting alliances in Yemen, al-Sayyad said, “after three years now, the coalition still does not know what it wants in Yemen”.
“It’s time to sit down with the Saudi-led coalition and find out what they want in Yemen.”
Yemen and the UAE are allies in the Saudi-led coalition, but relations between the two countries soured amid concerns among Yemeni officials over the UAE’s growing influence in southern Yemen.
Since its launch in 2016, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) – a political movement demanding secession for southern Yemen – has intensified its demands to secede from the north after receiving considerable patronage and humanitarian assistance from the UAE.
The UAE has set up prisons and armed groups in the region, causing officials of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government to accuse Emirati troops of behaving like an “occupier”.
Since then, the STC has been accused of fomenting sectarian division and hatred in Aden, with a spike in attacks against displaced Yemenis, many of whom who fled intense coalition air attacks in the provinces of Taiz, Hudaida and Sanaa.
Separately, rights group Amnesty International said on Thursday that tens of thousands of civilians were displaced during the Yemeni government’s offensive against Houthi rebels along the country’s western coast, backed by Saudi-led coalition ground troops and warplanes.
After carrying out a field investigation, Amnesty representatives said they were “very worried about what appear to be indiscriminate attacks and other violations of international humanitarian law”.
“They are putting the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands more at risk.”
The report added: “As both sides engaged in fierce clashes, an assortment of munitions, bullets and shrapnel ripped through civilian homes, and Saudi Arabia-led coalition air strikes also killed and injured civilians.”
“Civilians caught in the middle face a range of violations of international humanitarian law by both sides.”