DAKAR, Senegal (AP) -- Senegal is sending 2,100 troops to help back the military intervention led by Saudi Arabia that is underway in Yemen, becoming the first sub-Saharan African country to contribute soldiers to the effort, the country's foreign minister said Monday.
The decision to deploy soldiers was announced by Foreign Affairs Minister Mankeur Ndiaye, who read a message from the president before the National Assembly.
Senegal, which is made up of mostly Sunni Muslims like Saudi Arabia, has received significant financial investments from the kingdom in recent years. Last month, Senegalese President Macky Sall met with the Saudi king, who solicited troop contributions.
The conflict in Yemen has heightened sectarian rhetoric in the Middle East region, with hard-liners in both Saudi Arabia and Iran essentially casting the war as a conflict between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.
Senegal called Saudi Arabia a "dear friend," and warned that the Yemen rebels posed a serious threat to regional stability and to Islam's holy sites.
"This Senegalese contribution to the international coalition is equally aimed at protecting Islam's holy places Mecca and Medina which are also threatened by these terrorist groups," Ndiaye warned.
The move was swiftly condemned by Senegal's opposition parties.
"Saudi Arabia isn't threatened and neither are Islam's holy sites. There is nothing to justify a military intervention by Senegal," said Modou Diagne, an opposition politician.