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New criticism over French arms shipments to Saudi Arabia


AFP Paris
A Saudi Arabian cargo ship arrived at a port in southern France on Tuesday to pick up munitions, according to an investigative website, rekindling criticism of weapons sales to the Middle Eastern nation which rights groups say are being used in the devastating war in Yemen.
The shipment was revealed by the Disclose website, whose reporting on a similar shipment of French weapons earlier this month led to pressure that prompted Riyadh to renounce loading the weapons.
Disclose said the new shipment involved munitions for French Caesar cannons that would be loaded at the Mediterranean port of Fos-sur-Mer, near Marseille.
"We are checking this out," Defence Minister Florence Parly told lawmakers in Parliament who assailed the government for allowing the weapons sales. "And if this is indeed the case, would it be surprising? No, because we have an accord with Saudi Arabia," she said.
But a representative in France for the Saudi shipping company involved denied any plans for a weapons shipment, saying the vessel was picking up only electricity production units from Germany's Siemens, for civil use. "The reports about a load of weapons or explosives is completely false," the official told AFP.
Rights groups accuse Riyadh of using the French weapons against civilians in Yemen, where around 10,000 people have died since it began its offensive in 2015 with its ally the United Arab Emirates.
Several French lawmakers called for a moratorium on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, similar to the freeze enacted by Germany last October in response to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
French officials say the weapons sold to Saudi Arabia have been used only for defensive purposes, rejecting claims that it is violating the Arms Trade Treaty that prohibits arms sales to countries if their use could lead to civilian casualties.
"Yes, it's a dirty war, yes it has to be stopped, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates must stop" the fighting, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Inter radio earlier Tuesday.

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First Published: May 29 2019 | 12:55 AM IST

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