Update: Yemen gov't vows action to defend Socotra Island from "UAE bid" to land separatists

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SANAA, June 19 (Xinhua) -- The Yemeni government on Wednesday directed the local authorities and security forces in its remote island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea to stand ready to defend the island, expressing concern over a recent attempt by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to land over 100 separatist militias onto the island.

In a statement carried by the state Saba news agency, the government accused the UAE of attempting to seize control over Socotra's seaports, in a move that further rises tensions between the nominal allies in Yemen's war.

"Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik made a telephone conversation with the Governor of Socotra Island Ramzi Mahrous on Wednesday to discuss the recent event in the island," the Aden-based government-run Saba said in the statement, referring to Tuesday's clashes between the security forces of Socotra and the UAE-backed separatist militias who attempted to unload military vehicles and weapons from a UAE-flagged vessel aiming to seize control over Socotra's main seaport.

"The premier said his government upholds and supports all measures taken by the local authorities and the security forces in defending the island," Saba said.

On Tuesday, a UAE-flagged vessel carrying around 100 Yemeni separatist militias arrived at the main seaport of Hadibu, the capital city of Socotra, according to another statement by Socotra local authorities.

The separatists disembarked from the vessel and attempted to unload military vehicles and weapons as they aimed to seize control of the island's seaport, said the statement.

The move triggered clashes that lasted hours between the separatists and Socotra's security forces, which eventually ended after the Socotra's security forces forced the UAE's vessel and the militias to retreat away from the seaport.

At least 12 from both sides were wounded in the clashes, according to an official at the Socotra local authorities.

There were no comments from the UAE over the Tuesday's clashes.

Tuesday's clashes were the latest fighting in the Yemeni southern provinces between the forces loyal to the internationally-recognized government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the separatist militias who have been backed and recruited by the UAE.

Tensions have escalated between the UAE and the Yemeni government since 2016 over what Hadi's government have been complaining about the UAE's military moves on Socotra.

In May, similar clashes erupted between both sides, in which the Yemeni government accused the UAE of seeking to occupy the island.

The UAE has recruited thousands of militias from the Yemeni southern separatist movement as part of its war against the Iran-allied Shiite Houthi rebels, who seized much of Yemen's north including the capital Sanaa, according to pro-government local media.

Several government-controlled southern provinces, including Aden, have witnessed similar clashes between the government forces and the separatist militias over the past three years.

Socotra is a UNESCO world natural heritage site protected by the UN body for its unique flora and fauna.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia led a military coalition to intervene in Yemen's civil war in 2015 to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Enditem

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