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Saudi military says its forces arrive on Yemen's Socotra island

Saudi troops are on a training mission at the World Heritage site to support Yemeni forces, says military spokesman.

Socotra island

Saudi troops have landed on the Yemeni island of Socotra, according to a Saudi military spokesman.

Turki al-Malki, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen's Houthi rebels, said on Sunday the Saudi soldiers are on a training and support mission with Yemeni forces.

Saudi, Emirati, and Yemeni forces will conduct joint training exercises in coordination with the Yemeni government, he added.

The Saudi deployment was reportedly coordinated with the Yemeni government, according to Saudi's state-owned Al-Ekhbariya channel.

Socotra has been at the heart of a dispute between Yemen and its ally the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE is a major pillar in the Saudi-led coalition but its deployment of troops to the island earlier this month without prior consultation with Yemen's government stoked the ire of residents.

Mass protests 

Protests broke out in Socotra last week as locals rejected the deployment of forces belonging to the UAE because there are no rebels on the island.

Demonstrators marched through the streets of Socotra's capital, Hadibu, rejecting what they described as UAE intervention in the internal affairs of the province without seeking government approval.

"These forces are present in Socotra and al-Mahra in numbers that can't be understood," said Abdullah bin Issa al-Aafra of the Al-Mahra and Socotra People's General Council.

The Emirati soldiers arrived on Thursday, forcing out Yemeni troops and taking over strategic locations, including the airport and the seaport.

Socotra, in the Indian Ocean, is located about 350km from the southern coast of Yemen.

Located just off the coast of Somalia with access to major shipping routes, Socotra is also a World Heritage Site known for its unique and pristine environment.

The UAE and the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi are allies in a war against the Houthi rebels.

Relations between the two have soured, however, because of the UAE's expanding influence in southern Yemen, home to a resurgent separatist movement.

The UAE's attempt to exert control over Socotra is seen by many as the latest move by the Gulf state to spread its influence well beyond its borders.

Socotra has been spared involvement in the Yemeni conflict, which has claimed about 10,000 lives since March 2015 and triggered what the United Nations has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis. 

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