By Richard Lough and John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) – French arms including tanks and laser-guided missile systems sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are being used in the Yemeni war against civilians, leaked intelligence published by investigative website Disclose showed.
Entitled “Yemen: security situation”, a 15-page classified report written by France’s DRM military intelligence agency includes maps that detail the positioning of French-made weapons inside Yemen and on the Saudi side of the border.
It demonstrates that swathes of Yemen’s population lives under the threat of the French-made arms, according to Disclose.
The leaked report will be awkward for President Emmanuel Macron and his government, which has said that as far as it knows French-made arms sold to Saudi Arabia are used solely for defensive purposes on the border.
The intelligence document states that Caesar cannons, manufactured by French company Nexter and deployed along the Saudi-Yemeni frontier, conduct defensive shelling of Houthi forces as well as back up “loyalist troops and Saudi armed forces in their progression into Yemeni territory”.
The intelligence dossier is dated September 25, 2018. It was presented to Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, as well as France’s defence and foreign ministers.
The Disclose report was part of an investigation carried out with Mediapart, Konbini, France Inter radio, Arte television and U.S.-based The Intercept.
France is a signatory of the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty that regulates the international trade of conventional weapons and bans the sale of weapons that fuel human rights violations or war crimes.
U.N. experts have said all sides in the Yemeni conflict may have committed war crimes.
“NOT ON THEFRONTLINE”
Philippe’s office said in a statement that France adopted rigorous safeguards when issuing export licences and supported United Nations’ efforts to broker peace in Yemen.
“As far as we know, French arms possessed by coalition forces are placed for the most part in defensive positions, outside of Yemeni territory or under coalition control, but not on the front line,” the statement said.
It did not question the authenticity of the documents and neither confirmed nor denied the Disclose report, adding that France was not aware of Yemeni civilians being killed by French arms.
The defence ministry, which oversees the DRM, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Saudi and UAE government communication offices and a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The four-year conflict in Yemen has shattered its economy and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, the U.N. says. More than 10,000 civilians have been killed and some 10 million people have been driven to the brink of famine.
A second, six-page DRM intelligence report distributed more widely, according to Disclose, showed that French-made tanks were deployed in defensive positions in bases including Mocha, Aden, al-Khawkhah along the coast and Ma’rib.
Disclose said its study of satellite images, video and photographs taken by civilians revealed some Leclerc tanks bought by the UAE had taken part in coalition offensives, including the campaign for control of the rebel-held port of Hodeidah.
The six-page report also said that UAE Mirage fighter jets were equipped with a laser-guided system made by Thales known as Damocles which it said were possibly being used in Yemen.
Germany has imposed an embargo on arms exports to Saudi Arabia over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and amid concerns over Riyadh’s role in the Yemen war, drawing criticism from the arms industry and from allies France and Britain, which say the move has put joint projects at risk.
(Reporting by Richard Lough, John Irish and Sophie Louet; writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Gareth Jones)