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No sign of France reviewing weapons sales to Saudi-led Yemen coalition: sources

By John Irish
Reuters

By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - France has shown no concrete signs of reducing or suspending weapons sales to a Saudi-led coalition despite warnings that some of its weapons could be used in the war in Yemen, sources aware of the issue said on Friday.

The kingdom is leading a coalition formed in 2015 to fight the Iran-aligned Houthi group that controls most of northern Yemen and the capital Sanaa, in a war that has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 3 million.

The French administration under President Emmanuel Macron has drawn criticism in particular from rights groups over its support of the kingdom's actions and allowing weapons it has sold to Riyadh potentially to be used in its Yemen operations.

"There is a desire to show that France is doing something. It says some deliveries have been suspended in the past, but there is nothing to show that," a source close to the matter said.

Two other sources echoed those comments.

According to officials from the previous French government and diplomats, Jean-Marc Ayrault, foreign minister from 2016-2017, had already warned in an official letter to the then-prime minister of a possible escalation in Yemen and of the consequences of weapon sales to those involved in the conflict.

Other European states have begun to limit military ties with the Saudi-led coalition. Norway has suspended sales to the United Arab Emirates and Germany, as part of a deal creating a new government, plans to not supply arms to anyone directly involved in Yemen.

"The Germans' reservations seem to be making the French uncomfortable," said a former senior government official.

"WE DON'T SELL WEAPONS ANYHOW"

While Paris has good ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, it has grown increasingly concerned by the worsening humanitarian situation; in December Macron called for a "complete lifting" of a blockade on Yemen.

France's Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

A French diplomatic source said Paris applied export controls vetting deals on a case-by-case analysis that takes into consideration, among other things, the nature of the materials, the end user, human rights and regional situation.

"Of course, anything that may affect the safety of civilians is one of the criteria that leads us to authorize or not allow these exports," the source said.

He declined to say if any sales to the Saudi-led coalition had been suspended.

"We're told that there is a closer look at French arms exports to the coalition, but there is no information on either the suspension or cancellation of contracts," a second source said.

Among France's arms sales to Saudi Arabia was a $3 billion Saudi-funded contract to the Lebanese army that collapsed, but was in part appropriated by Riyadh.

In November it sealed a contract for warships to the UAE.

Defence Minister Florence Parly on Friday sought to play down her country's role and did not say whether Paris would review its stance.

"Who could have imagined the outcome of this conflict in Yemen?" she told France Inter radio. "The use of weapons, once delivered, is normally restricted, but conflicts can evolve," she said.

France, she said, did not sell "weapons anyhow".

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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