Saudi Arabia today denied using British cluster bombs in the war in Yemen claiming weapons seen by ITV News were relics from a previous conflict.
The spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, who have been fighting a bitter war in neighbouring Yemen for 19 months, admitted using British cluster bombs in 2009 but said claims they were used in the current conflict were “manipulation.”
Last week ITV News broadcast photographs taken by a Yemeni rebel fighter showing British-made cluster bomblets which he claimed were dropped on a village in the north of Yemen in March this year.
We also filmed a partially-deployed British cluster bomb in a storage facility in north Yemen.
An Amnesty International report on this weapon claimed it was dropped in January 2016.
Both weapons are in remarkably good condition, seemingly unaffected by wind, rain or sun.
But coalition spokesman Major General Ahmed Asseri said: “There is manipulation in these photos used because they forget that in 2009 we fought these militias and we used this kind to protect our border but not to use it in civilian areas.
“This is manipulation. This is what we face in the media, people manipulate these kinds of photos. if we used it we would say we used it…why would we deny it?”
Saudi Arabia and coalition partners have been fighting to restore the Internationally recognised government who were ousted in a coup by Houthi rebels and supporters of a previous president.
Their campaign has been dogged by claims of human rights abuses including an attack on a funeral in Sana’a last month that killed 140 mourners.
Cluster bombs have been widely used in the conflict, but the use of British cluster bombs is highly controversial. When they were dropped is important.
In 2010 Britain signed the Cluster Munitions Convention which commits the UK to disposing of all cluster munitions and working to prevent their use by anyone else.
If Britain’s close ally Saudi Arabia, with British warplanes, British-trained pilots and British officers in their targeting room has been using cluster bombs in the current war in Yemen this could breach the UK’s treaty obligations. Saudi Arabia has not signed the convention.
On the detail contained in the Amnesty report Major General Asseri added: “Listen, do you trust this kind of report ?
The problem is these kinds of organisation mix things. We will not argue with amnesty, we know the way they work and again they are not on the ground, this is important, they are reporting from a distance.”
In fact the Amnesty researcher who compiled the report did visit Yemen.
Major General Asseri claimed Saudi stocks of British cluster bombs were obsolete and had been destroyed and that their Tornado strike aircraft were not configured to drop the weapons in any case.
He admitted the British government had expressed concern: “The British are our partners, our allies, we have a long history, this kind of dealing is normal between two countries who are working together for a long time…they gave us their concern and we assured them that it wasn’t used and it will not be used.”