France confirms arms shipment to Saudi Arabia despite outcry

Published 09.05.2019 00:08

Despite accusations of being complicit in alleged war crimes against civilians in Yemen, the French government confirmed that a new shipment of weapons will head for Saudi Arabia. Defense Minister Florence Parly refused to identify the types of arms, but reiterated France's stance that they have been used only for defensive purposes by Saudi Arabia since it began its Yemen offensive in 2015.

France, the world's third-biggest arms exporter, counts Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as major clients and has resisted pressure to stop arms sales to the Gulf countries. "France has strategic interests in this part of the world," Parly said yesterday, adding that the latest shipments were part of "long-term partnerships with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates." Germany also continues to support Saudi Arabia in Yemen, according to reports. The country had imposed a partial arms embargo on countries involved in the Yemen conflict and slapped a total ban on Saudi Arabia in November last year following the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. That ban was recently partially lifted in response to pressure from Britain and France in particular regarding arms exports with German components that fell under the ban.

The coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE has been using weapons produced in Europe and the U.S. to kill and wound hundreds of civilians in Yemen, according to a report released by a Yemen-based human rights group last month. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, previously the Saudi defense minister and Saudi Arabia's allies launched Operation Decisive Storm in March 2015. The ongoing war has resulted in the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with an estimated 24 million people, close to 80 percent of the population, in need of assistance and protection in Yemen, according to the U.N. The World Health Organization (WHO) says some 10,000 people have been killed since the coalition intervened in 2015, but rights groups state the death toll could be five times as high.

Pressure has been mounting on the government after the investigative news site Disclose leaked a classified military note last month detailing the use of French tanks and artillery in the war against Houthi rebels. Disclose alleged the new shipment included eight truck-mounted Caesar howitzers, though a government source told Agence France-Presse (AFP) this week that such cannons were not part of the delivery.

Rights groups have accused Paris of being complicit in alleged war crimes against civilians in Yemen, where around 10,000 people have died and millions been forced to the brink of starvation. "The Saudi regime is one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world and has inflicted a terrible humanitarian crisis on Yemen," said Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) nongovernmental organization (NGO). "The destruction would not have been possible without the complicity and support of arms-dealing governments," he said.

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