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French tanks and artillery used by Saudi Arabia and UAE in deadly Yemen conflict

Paris has always insisted that the arms are only used in defensive circumstances [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 April, 2019

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French weapons are being used by the UAE and Saudi Arabia in Yemen, according to a classified military note revealed on Monday.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are using French weapons in their ongoing deadly war against rebels in Yemen, according to a classified military note revealed on Monday, which contradicts public statements from France's government.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia deployed French weaponry - including artillery, tanks and ships - in their war against Houthi rebels, the note from the French military intelligence service, published by new investigative media outlet Disclose, concluded.

Paris has always insisted that the arms are only used in defensive circumstances to deter attacks by the Houthis amid ongoing pressure for years by rights groups over arms sales.

The classified French intelligence note - provided to the government in October 2018, according to Disclose - said that 48 CAESAR artillery guns manufactured by the Nexter group were being used along the Saudi-Yemen border.

Leclerc tanks, sold in the 1990s to the UAE, have also been used, as have Mirage 2000-9 fighter jets, while French missile-guiding technology called DAMOCLES might have been deployed, according to the assessment.

Cougar transport helicopters and the A330 MRTT refuelling plane have also seen action, and two French ships are serving in the blockade of Yemeni ports which has led to food and medical shortages, the DRM military intelligence agency concluded.

The revelations risk causing embarrassment for French Armed Forces Minister Francoise Parly.

She said during an interview on the France Inter radio station in January this year: "I'm not aware that any (French) arms are being used in this conflict."

Asked for comment by AFP on Monday, the French government said that "to our knowledge, the French weapons owned by members of the coalition are for the most part in defensive positions, outside of Yemen or in military bases, not on the frontline".

France, the third-biggest arms exporter in the world, counts Saudi Arabia and the UAE as loyal clients in the Middle East and has resisted pressure to stop the arms trade - unlike Germany, which has suspended sales.

Rights groups have regularly accused Paris of being complicit in alleged war crimes committed in Yemen where thousands have died and millions have been forced to the brink of starvation.

"The government can no longer deny the risk of complicity in war crimes," the head of Human Rights Watch in France, Benedicte Jeannerod, wrote on Twitter in response to the revelations on Monday.

Amnesty International slammed Monday's revelations as a violation of the Arms Trade Treaty.

"Despite overwhelming evidence, Western arms supplied to the Saudi Arabia and UAE-led coalition are being used to commit or facilitate possible war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen, states such as France have shamelessly flouted their international obligations by continuing to supply arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in violation of the Arms Trade Treaty," the rights group said.

"The information made public today should spur the French government to immediately suspend all arms transfers that could be used by any of the warring parties in Yemen – once and for all," it added.

Disclose is a new investigative website working in partnership with established media companies including public broadcaster France Info, online brand Mediapart and Franco-German television channel Arte.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia, which own billions of dollars' worth of weapons bought from the United States, France and UK, intervened in 2015 to support the Yemeni government against the Houthis after the rebels overran the capital and other major cities.

Experts have concluded that all the warring parties have violated international humanitarian law and the UN has described the situation in the war-torn country the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The revelations on Monday came as the International Crisis Group, which researches ways to end conflicts, suggested the US should help its Middle East ally to exit the war in Yemen, where little progress has been made for four years.

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