Macron defends French arms sales to Saudi Arabia, voices concern for rights in Yemen

Yoan Valat, AFP | French President Emmanuel Macron (R) and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) at a joint press conference in Paris on April 10, 2018.

President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday defended French weapons sales to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, but said he was concerned by the humanitarian situation and would host a conference on the issue before the summer.


"Between now and the summer a joint conference will be held on Yemen to clarify what is being done and what needs to be done," Macron said at a news conference alongside visiting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

When asked about civilian casualties, Prince Mohammed said the coalition was doing everything to avoid civilian casualties in Yemen, but that mistakes were inevitable in conflicts.

Pressure has been mounting on Macron to scale back arms support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which are leading the coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi group that controls most of northern Yemen and the capital

The Yemen conflict has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 3 million, with no sign of a diplomatic breakthrough to ease the crisis.

Seventy-five percent of French people want Macron to suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, a YouGov poll found.

"Since the start of the conflict in Yemen, France has adopted a very specific process whereby all sales of military equipment are analysed on a case-by-case basis and on the basis of reinforced criteria that reflect respect for international
humanitarian law and the risk of harm to civilian populations," said Macron.

France is the world's third biggest arms exporter and counts the two countries among its biggest purchasers.

The comments came at the end of Prince Mohammed’s three-day official visit to France, which saw French and Saudi companies signing draft agreements worth a total of €14.5 billion ($18 billion), according to a French-Saudi business forum.

The memoranda of understanding cover sectors including petrochemicals, water treatment, tourism, health, agricultural and cultural activities, business leaders and representatives of both governments said in a statement.

Rights group files lawsuit in Paris court

On Tuesday, a human rights group filed a lawsuit in a Paris court against Prince Mohammed, accusing him of complicity in torture and inhumane treatment in Yemen.

The complaint on behalf of Taha Hussein Mohamed, director of the Legal Center for Rights and Development (LCRD), said the prince, who is Saudi Arabia’s defence minister, was responsible for attacks that hit civilians in Yemen.

The rights group, based in the Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital Sanaa, says on its website it monitors and documents rights’ violations in Yemen.

“He ordered the first bombings on Yemeni territory on March 25, 2015,” the group’s lawyers, Joseph Breham and Hakim Chergui, said in the complaint seen by Reuters.

“The existence of indiscriminate shelling by the coalition armed forces affecting civilian populations in Yemen can be qualified as acts of torture,” they wrote.

The complaint also accuses the coalition of depriving millions of people of access to basic necessities due to indiscriminate bombings and a naval blockade of Yemeni ports. The war has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

Saudi Arabia could participate in Syria strikes

While the war in Yemen drags on, the Saudi crown prince said his kingdom could also take part in military action against Syria after an alleged chemical attack in the town of Douma killed at least 40 people over the weekend.

"If our alliance with our partners requires it, we will be present," said Prince Mohammed.

Earlier Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters that a number of countries were holding consultations on how to respond to a chemical weapons attack in Syria and called for those responsible to be held accountable.

"Our position is that those responsible have to be held accountable and brought to justice," he said.

As the US and its European allies contemplates a response to the Douma attack, Macron said France will target the Syrian government's chemical weapons capabilities if the international community decides to strike the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

"Our decision will not target allies of the regime or attack anyone but rather attack the regime's chemical capabilities," he told a press conference, insisting he did "not want an escalation".

Macron said France's information had shown "that chemical weapons were indeed used and that the regime could clearly be held responsible".

The Syrian government and Russia has said there was no evidence that a gas attack had taken place and the claim was bogus.

Hours after the Assad regime invited international inspectors to send a team to Syria, the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it would soon deploy a fact-finding mission to Douma.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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