France confirms contested arms shipment to Saudi Arabia at height of Yemen War

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France confirms contested arms shipment to Saudi Arabia at height of Yemen War
French Defence Minister Florence Parly leaves the Elysee Presidential Palace after a cabinet meeting on May 7th. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

French officials confirmed on Wednesday that the country will send a new shipment of weapons to Saudi Arabia, among claims that the arms are used in the Yemen War.


Defense Minister Florence Parly told BFM television the weapons would be loaded onto a Saudi cargo ship scheduled to arrive on Wednesday in the French port of Le Havre.

She 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.

"As far as the French government is aware, we have no proof that the victims in Yemen are the result of the use of French weapons," Parly said.

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 Huthi rebels.

Disclose alleged the new shipment included eight truck-mounted Caesar howitzers, though a government source told 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 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 NGO.

"The destruction would not have been possible without the complicity and support of arms-dealing governments," he said.

'Flagrant Violation'

On Tuesday, leftwing lawmakers stormed out of parliament in protest after Genevieve Darrieussecq, secretary of state for the armed forces, said there was "no proof these weapons are being used against civilian populations".

France, the world's third-biggest arms exporter, counts Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as major clients and has resisted pressure to stop arms sales to the Gulf countries.

It is a marked contrast with Germany, which has suspended its weapon sales to Saudi Arabia since last October.

"France has strategic interests in this part of the world," Parly said Wednesday, adding that the latest shipments were part of "long-term partnerships with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates".

Benedicte Jeannerod, France director for Human Rights Watch, said that instead of denying the civilian risks in the Yemeni conflict, "France should suspend all weapons shipments to Saudi Arabia, so as not to be an accomplice in serious violations".

Media reports have also claimed the cargo ship is carrying weapons obtained from Belgium, prompting Amnesty International on Wednesday to urge a parliamentary inquiry.

It said any use of Belgian weapons in the Yemeni conflict was "a flagrant violation of the Arms Trade Treaty, which requires in particular the application of a precautionary principle" in case of risk they would lead to civilian casualties.

The United Nations says the Yemeni conflict is the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 3.3 million people displaced by the fighting and 24.1 million in need of aid.


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