Yemen’s STC thwarts Muslim Brotherhood’s plans in Socotra

Southern Transitional Council forces took control of the headquarters of the province.
Saturday 20/06/2020
Fighters from of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) launch an attack in the Sheikh Salim area in the southern Abyan province. (AFP)
Fighters from of the Southern Transitional Council (STC) launch an attack in the Sheikh Salim area in the southern Abyan province. (AFP)

ADEN –Local sources on the Yemeni island of Socotra confirmed to The Arab Weekly that forces loyal to the Southern Transitional Council (STC) took control, on Friday, of vital sites in the city of Hadibu, the capital of the archipelago, after brief skirmishes with government forces backed by the Muslim Brotherhood.

STC forces took control of the headquarters of the province, the General Security building located west of Hadibu and a number of other government buildings, including the Traffic Control Department and the Shamil Centre. According to a member of the STC presidency, Salem Thabet al-Awlaki, the STC forces are still besieging from all directions the camp of the Special Forces, the last stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood in Socotra.

Sources in the Transitional Council attributed the return of tensions in Socotra to what it considered political agendas of some officials loyal to Qatar, including the governor of Socotra Ramzi Mahrous, whom they accused of escalating the situation after a visit to Turkey during which he met Turkish and Qatari officers and leaders of the pro-Doha Yemeni Reform Party.

The sources pointed out that Issa bin Yaqout played a prominent role in fuelling security unrest on the island following his appointment by the governor as “Sheikh of the Sheikhs of Socotra”, a position that the latter had specifically created for the former on a Qatari directive in order to implement an agenda hostile to the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

In statements to Qatari and Turkish media, Bin Yaqout renewed his accusations against Saudi Arabia, which is leading the Arab coalition in Yemen, of “paving the way for the Southern Transitional Council to storm the provincial capital.”

“The Saudis are paving the way for the Transitional Council to storm the city of Hadibu (the capital of Socotra),” Bin Yaqout said. “There is an exchange of roles between Saudi Arabia and the UAE by plotting against Socotra,” he added.

This attack on Saudi Arabia comes at a time when leaders, who are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, are calling for action to implement the Riyadh Agreement on their own terms and without fulfilling any of their pledges, whether the ones related to stopping the mobilization against Aden or the ones related to stopping the media incitement campaigns against the STC. These leaders have so far failed to show any signs of goodwill towards ending the crisis with the STC and are still carrying on with their strategy of internationalising the conflict by opening the doors to Turkish and Qatari interference.

According to sources, the confrontations took a turn for the worse following a failed assassination attempt against the president of the STC branch in Socotra Raafat al-Thaqali last week, as Muslim Brotherhood leaders disavowed a truce agreement signed between representatives of the STC and the local authority on the island under the supervision of the leader of the Saudi force on duty on the island. The truce stipulated halting all military escalation, withdrawing all forces to their previous positions and forbidding any military actions without prior approval from the coalition leadership on the island.

While the so-called “legitimate” government in Yemen considered the actions taken by the STC in Socotra as acts of “aggression” and “a rebellion and a coup,” Yemeni political sources suggested that the Arab coalition would intervene to end the crisis and push for a comprehensive settlement of the conflict between the Yemeni government and the STC.

Since the end of Qatar’s participation in the Arab coalition in 2017, the Yemeni island of Socotra has been turned into media fodder for Doha’s and the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaigns against the coalition. Qatar had accused the UAE of having ambitions on the island by wanting to establish a permanent presence there, and this before Saudi forces from the Arab coalition assumed in mid-2018 securing the island after the departure of the Emirati forces operating there.

Media reports spoke of the existence of a Qatari-Turkish agenda that contributed to worsening of the situation in the Yemeni archipelago located in the Indian Ocean, in light of information about Turkey’s plan to lay hands on the island, which is not far from its military bases in Somalia.

The fast-evolving events in Socotra came as military confrontations in Abyan governorate continue between STC forces and government forces. The implementation of the Riyadh Agreement is now on hold and there were information leaks about Saudi Arabian efforts to push the two parties towards an immediate cease-fire and start implementing the agreement on which the Arab coalition had pegged its hopes for reforming the “legitimate” government camp, ending the prevailing schizophrenia of the political decision in Yemen and uniting efforts in the face of the Houthi militias.

Yemeni political sources confirmed earlier to The Arab Weekly that there were complications hindering any progress in implementing the Riyadh Agreement. Among these complications there is the great mistrust between the two signatories to the agreement, and the presence of a pro-Qatar current in the Yemeni government insisting on resolving the conflict militarily, in addition to both parties refusing to make substantial concessions in the terms related to performing mutual withdrawals or relinquishing possession of their heavy weapons and redeploying their forces.

The Arab Weekly sources indicated that the government’s relinquishing control of the Shabwa province, which has become the main stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen, was one of the main reasons for faltering in the implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, in addition to the escalating role that Qatar’s agents were playing in fuelling discord and dissent by distributing funds and establishing militia recruitment camps funded by Doha.