By Cécile Feuillatre and Lucie Peytermann
The Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen may have increased public pressure on EU governments to freeze arms sales to the kingdom but for now, it seems unlikely to spawn radical new policy changes.
The war in Yemen pits the military coalition headed by Saudi Arabia against Iran-backed Shia Huthi rebels in a conflict which has killed tens of thousands of people, many of them civilians and triggered what the United Nations has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The public spotlight on the kingdom’s behaviour has intensified since dissident Jamal Khashoggi was killed last year inside its consulate in Istanbul by a Saudi assassination squad, a crime Riyadh insists it had nothing to do with.
But in countries like Britain and France, arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia and its key partner the United Arab Emirates – regarded as close allies – are seen as critically important for keeping military influence and also preserving potentially thousands of jobs.
A new delivery of French arms to a Saudi ship, the Bahri Yanbu, was awaited in the French port of Le Havre. But the vessel will no longer dock there despite having anchored off the port for days, a source said Friday.
The change of plan came after protests but it was not immediately clear what had caused it or where the vessel would head next.
“Clearly, with the war in Yemen there has been a rupture,” Aymeric Elluin of Amnesty International France said.
“There has been an awakening for a time in Germany, Belgium, Britain and Italy. In France, it’s something very new.”
Paris delivered some 1.38 billion euros ($1.5 billion) of weapons to Riyadh in 2017, making it France’s second-biggest customer in the sector after Egypt.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday defended the arms sales, describing Riyadh and Abu Dhabi as allies in the fight against terror and saying Paris had received guarantees they would not be used against civilians.
But Elluin dismissed the assurances.
“It’s not enough to say ‘I have guarantees’, we need to be shown them. And at the same time, we would like to be told clearly how Saudi Arabia is fighting against terror in Yemen.”
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