Yemen officials: UAE-backed troops take southern oil fields

Sanaa, Yemen — Yemeni forces, backed by the United Arab Emirates, have taken control of vital southern oil and gas fields after nearly a week of fierce clashes with their rivals loyal to the internationally recognized government, officials and tribal leaders said Monday.

The clashes involved the UAE-backed Giants Brigades and Shabwa Defense Forces on one side and the paramilitary police known as the Special Security Forces on the other.

They broke out earlier this month when Shabwa police and military commanders were fired over alleged anti-Emirati sentiments and ties to the Muslim Muslim Brotherhood. The internationally recognized government approved the move.

The seizure of the oil fields is likely to strengthen the hold of southern UAE-backed forces trying to reestablish their own land in the southern half of Yemen. It would also weaken the wider alliance in Yemen that has been fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The Emirates-backed militias also captured Shabwa’s provincial capital of Ataq a few days ago, security and oil officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

The Giants Brigades and Shabwa Defense Forces are part of the Southern Transitional Council, allies of the UAE, another pillar of a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition that has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.

The council, which controls virtually most of Yemen’s southern half, has repeatedly called for the country to be split in two again, as it was from 1967 to 1990.

Yemen’s civil war broke out in 2014 when the Houthis descended from their northern enclave and took over the capital Sanaa, forcing the government to flee to the country and eventually go into exile in Saudi Arabia.

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A coalition led by Saudi Arabia — then backed by the United States — entered the war in early 2015 to try to bring the government back to power. Since then, the conflict has turned into a proxy war between regional enemies Saudi Arabia and Iran, which supports the Houthis.

The war has also divided Yemen along tribal, regional and political lines.

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