Yemen officials: UAE-backed forces take southern oil fields

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni forces backed by the United Arab Emirates seized 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 pitted 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 erupted earlier this month when Shabwa police and military commanders were sacked over alleged anti-Emirati sentiments and ties to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group. The internationally recognized government endorsed the move.

The seizure of the oil fields is likely to consolidate the grip of southern, UAE-backed forces who seek to reestablish their own country in Yemen’s southern half. It also could weaken the broader alliance in Yemen that has been fighting against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

The Emirati-backed militias also took 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 reporters.

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

The council, which virtually controls most of Yemen’s southern half, has repeatedly pushed to again split the country into two like it was from 1967 to 1990.

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

A Saudi-led coalition — then backed by the United Sates — entered the war in early 2015 to try to restore the government to power. Since then, the conflict has turned into a proxy war between regional foes Saudi Arabia and Iran, which backs the Houthis.

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

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