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NGOs pressure Macron over Saudi weapons as prince visits

10th April 2018 - 10:00 GMT | by ​Agence France-Presse in Paris

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Rights groups on 9 April urged French President Emmanuel Macron to pressure visiting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the war in Yemen, warning that Riyadh may be using French weapons in the conflict.

Aurelie Perrier, coordinator for Yemen and Saudi Arabia at Amnesty International France, said: ‘France is potentially an accomplice to serious violations of humanitarian laws by selling weapons and military equipment to Saudi Arabia, given what we know is taking place in Yemen.’

Perrier told AFP at a protest under the Eiffel Tower as Prince Mohammed kicked off his visit to Paris: ‘We want to ask President Macron to stop arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and to lift the blockade on Yemen.’

Two other groups, the Weapons Observatory (Obsarm) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), said the sheer volume of French weapons exports to Saudi pointed to the likelihood that they have been deployed in Yemen.

The groups said French exports included types of equipment reported to have been used in Yemen, including Leclerc tanks and Caesar howitzers, while ‘confidential testimony’ also pointed to the presence of French arms on the ground.

The group said in a statement: ‘If these indicators do not constitute proof, they throw serious suspicion on the massive presence and use of French military equipment in Yemen.’

A Saudi-led coalition has been bombing and blockading Yemen since 2015 in a conflict that has left 10,000 people dead.

A combination of fighting, disease and food shortages has led the United Nations to call it the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe's office insisted in March 2018 that French land weapons sold to Riyadh were ‘defensive’ and being used in Saudi Arabia to deter cross-border attacks.

He added that ‘surveillance measures’ to track the use of French weapons had been ‘strongly reinforced in recent months.’

French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said 9 April there was a ‘clear interest for French industry’ in continuing arms exports to Riyadh.

Griveaux said: ‘It's an important part of our diplomacy. That doesn't mean turning a blind eye.’

 As the 32-year-old crown prince continues an international charm offensive that has included stops in the US, Britain and Egypt, rights groups urged Macron to pressure his guest on human rights violations.

Perrier said: ‘Saudi Arabia remains one of the worst countries in the world in terms of its human rights record.’

The prince has used his tour to project his reforms – including the historic lifting of a ban on women driving, the revival of cinemas and tolerance for mixed-gender concerts – as part of his pledge to return the kingdom to moderate Islam.

Sylvie Brigot-Vilain, director, Amnesty France, said: ‘Prince Mohammed considers himself a revolutionary, but if so, then he has to end the institutionalised oppression that has continued to build even after he came to power.

‘Especially regarding voices that oppose the regime, who increasingly find themselves behind bars.’

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