UAE-Yemen contentious issues unresolved as Saudi-led coalition reports gains

Hadi’s cabinet reshuffle may not be received well by the Saudi-led coalition.
Sunday 27/05/2018
An Emirati gunner watches for enemy fire from the rear gate of a UAE Chinook helicopter flying over Yemen. (AP)
Balanced role. An Emirati gunner watches for enemy fire from the rear gate of a UAE Chinook helicopter flying over Yemen. (AP)

LONDON - UAE and Yemeni officials, allies in the fight against Houthi rebels, continued personal disputes despite the pro-government Arab coalition reporting significant gains in battling the rebels in Yemen.

Yemeni Interior Minister Ahmed al-Misri told US television network PBS that Yemen was being controlled by the United Arab Emirates and not the Iran-allied Houthi militia, which took over the country three years ago and drove the internationally recognised government into exile in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

“We don’t regret that Emiratis are here. They helped us,” Misri said in the interview. “But you can’t go to the port without permission from UAE. You can’t go to the airport without permission from UAE. You can’t enter Aden from without the permission of UAE.”

Asked whether Yemen was occupied by the UAE, Misri said: “It’s undeclared. We have a lot of indicators on the ground that support what you just said but we still think good of UAE. The answer to your question will come in the next few months.”

“It’s either that the coalition countries prove that they came to support the legitimate government and they enable us to do our work or they will prove the thing you just said and I myself will go and say it in a press conference but not now,” he said.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash demanded that Yemeni officials reassess their positions.

“Unfortunately, some Yemeni government officials compare the role of the UAE to that of Iran. The loss of their compass will not make us forget our main mission within the Arab alliance of defeating the Houthis, reinstating the state and initiating development. This is time for genuine work, and not shedding tears,” Gargash wrote on his official Twitter account.

Gargash reminded Misri of the heavy human cost the Emirates has incurred while fighting for Yemen’s cause.

Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi has reshuffled his cabinet, a move analysts said was spurred by a drive to consolidate power by promoting officials known for loyalty.

Hadi appointed Yemeni Ambassador to the United Nations Khaled al-Yamani as foreign minister, replacing Abdel Malek al-Mekhlafi, who becomes a presidential adviser. Yemeni Ambassador to the United States Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak is to take over Yamani’s post at the United Nations.

Yemeni sources said the cabinet reshuffle was an attempt to pull together a group opposed to the Southern Transitional Council (STC). Yemeni forces and STC fighters clashed in January in what Hadi considered a setback. The intra-government changes reflect an attempt to strengthen his military and political power in southern Yemen.

Observers said the appointments may not be received well by the Saudi-led coalition because bin Mubarak, a close Hadi confidant, is thought to have been instrumental in the conflict regarding the UAE deploying troops on Yemen’s Socotra Island, supposedly without Yemeni permission.

The Yemeni government had threatened to take the issue to the United Nations, claiming the Emirates had breached Yemen’s sovereignty but the Socotra dispute was resolved through Saudi mediation. The deal brokered by the Saudis stipulated that the UAE hand control of Socotra’s airport and naval port to Saudi troops, who then transferred control to Yemeni authorities.

The Yemeni government declared Socotra a disaster zone after the island was struck by Cyclone Mekunu on May 24. At least 17 people were missing and significant material damage was reported. Hadi’s government requested international help to deal with the disaster and the United Arab Emirates is likely to pitch in in the humanitarian cause.

On the battlefront, the Saudi-led coalition said the Iran-allied Houthi rebels’ military capabilities were “collapsing.” Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Maliki said the Houthi militia had been expelled from 85% of Yemen’s territory and that their forces were falling apart.

Maliki said the Houthis have been seizing aid destined for the Yemeni people during Ramadan and using civilians as human shields. He cited a case of a 4-year-old girl reportedly used as a shield by her father.