Tensions are rising in southern Yemen's Shabwa province after the arrival last week of more pro-government forces linked to the Al Islah party from neighbouring Marib province.
Hundreds of fighters joined other Al Islah-linked forces already in Shabwa in an attempt to take control of oil-producing areas of the province, according to an official in the Southern Transitional Council, a political group seeking to restore the South Yemen state that existed before unification in 1990.
Mohmmed Al Ghaithy, the STC's deputy director of foreign affairs, told The National that these new forces were comprised of fighters from northern provinces, most of which are still under control of the Houthi rebels, and included elements suspected to have ties with terrorist groups.
“Last year the Islah party sent four military brigades linked with it to Shabwa oil zones. However the area is very small and there are the Elite Forces which can secure Shabwa entirely,” Mr Al Ghaithy said.
Thousands of people rallied in the streets of Shabwa's capital city, Ataq, on Monday in response the council's call for a protest to demand that the local Elite Forces be given full control of security in the province.
“The Elite Forces, which was established by the UAE in 2017, was built with soldiers originally from Shabwa. They succeeded in countering terrorist groups and securing the province in a short time, so what is the purpose of pushing the Islah forces from Marib?" Mr Al Ghaithy said. "People in Shabwa want their sons in the Elite Forces to take the responsibility of securing their own province."
The UAE is involved maintaining security as part of the Saudi-led military coalition that intervened in Yemen's war in 2015 to support the government against the Houthi rebels, who still control the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen.
Mr Al Ghaithy said public anger had been growing since the Islah militia arrived in Ataq and started provoking residents and attacking Elite Forces checkpoints. Heavy fighting between the two forces on Thursday is reported to have left five fighters dead and destroyed many military vehicles of the Al Islah forces.
"We took to the streets to support the Elite Forces. We trust these forces and need them to keep the province secure," Ataq resident Ahmed Al Hur told The National.
Shabwa and Hadramawt provinces produced most of Yemen's oil, the main source of revenue for the Arab world's poorest country, before the civil war disrupted operations. Shabwa resumed exports of freshly produced crude in August last year, but production remains under threat from the conflict.
On Monday morning, unidentified attackers bombed the oil pipeline linking oilfields in Block 4 in northern Shabwa with the oil port of Nushaiyma in the south-east of the province. The Yemeni Investment Company for Oil and Minerals said the pipeline was attacked in Lamater area in Al Rawdha district, causing a extensive leakage and the suspension of pumping operations.