Saudi coalition says UK-made cluster bombs used in Yemen

AFP , Tuesday 20 Dec 2016

A Yemeni tribesman from the Popular Resistance Committee, supporting forces loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi, fires a weapon as a fellow tribesman rescues the body of a dead comrade in the country's third-city of Taez during clashes with Shia Huthi rebels, on December 19, 2016. ( AFP PHOTO)

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen on Monday said it had made "limited use" of British-made cluster bombs, a type of weapon which 100 countries have pledged not to use.

In its 21-month campaign against Shia rebels who have seized much of Yemen, the Saudi-led alliance has faced repeated allegations of killing civilians.

It said it used the BL-755 cluster bombs "against legitimate military targets to defend Saudi towns and villages against continuous attacks" by the Huthi rebels.

The insurgents have killed more than 100 civilians and soldiers on the Saudi side of the border.

The coalition deployed the weapons in accordance with international humanitarian law, and not in civilian areas, it said, adding that Saudi Arabia no longer uses the BL-755.

London-based rights group Amnesty International in June alleged that "at least 16 civilians -- including nine children -- have been killed or injured by cluster submunitions between July 2015" and May of this year.

Amnesty said its findings came from the rebel stronghold of Saada as well as the Hajja area. Both are near the border with Saudi Arabia.

One hundred nations are party to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions which bans their use.

Britain is a party to the convention but Saudi Arabia, its coalition partners, and the United States are not.

British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told parliament on Monday he welcomed the Saudi decision that it will not use further BL-755 cluster munitions.

"We will continue to keep current sales of military equipment to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies under review," he said.

In January, the coalition spokesman said alliance forces had used CBU-105 cluster bombs against rebel vehicles.

President Barack Obama's administration moved in May to block sales of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia as concerns over civilian casualties in Yemen mounted, the journal Foreign Policy reported.

Cluster bombs contain multiple submunitions, which sometimes do not explode and become de facto landmines that can kill or maim long after being dropped.

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based watchdog, on Monday said the British-made cluster munitions had been transferred years ago and are no longer sold to Saudi Arabia.

But Britain continues to sell other weapons to the kingdom "despite the clear risk" of their use in future coalition attacks, the watchdog said, calling for a suspension of British arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Last week, the United States blocked the transfer of precision-guided bomb kits to Saudi Arabia out of concern over "flaws" in coalition targeting, a senior US administration official said.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Sunday dismissed such reports as "media propaganda".

Since fighting escalated last year, more than 7,000 people have been killed in Yemen, about half of them civilians.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in August reported that coalition air strikes were suspected of causing around 50 percent of all civilian deaths.

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