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David Cameron defends UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia and bombing in Yemen

Published 18/01/2016

A Yemeni worker looks at the damage at the Noor Centre for the Blind after it was reportedly destroyed by Saudi-led air strikes in the capital Sanaa on January 5, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
A Yemeni worker looks at the damage at the Noor Centre for the Blind after it was reportedly destroyed by Saudi-led air strikes in the capital Sanaa on January 5, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
A general view shows the rubble of the building of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry which was destroyed during air strikes on the capital, Sanaa, on January 5, 2016. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAISMOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Yemenis look at destruction in the street following air strikes on the capital, Sanaa, on January 5, 2016. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAISMOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Employees walk on the rubble of the Chamber of Trade and Industry headquarters after it was hit by a Saudi-led airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
An employee inspects a room inside the Chamber of Trade and Industry headquarters after it was hit by a Saudi-led airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
A man uses his mobile to take pictures of the rubble of the Chamber of Trade and Industry headquarters after it was hit by a Saudi-led air strike in Sanaa, Yemen, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
An employee inspects a building destroyed by Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen (AP)
TOPSHOT - Yemeni construction workers walk with their rollers for painting in the the capital, Sanaa, on January 5, 2016. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP / MOHAMMED HUWAISMOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Yemeni blind men hold a banner during a demonstration gathering disabled people to protest after a center for the blind was reportedly destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes in the capital Sanaa on January 6, 2016. Nearly 6,000 people have been killed since March, according to UN figures. At least 2,795 of them are civilians. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAISMOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Yemeni blind men shout slogans during a demonstration gathering disabled people to protest after a center for the blind was reportedly destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes in the capital Sanaa on January 6, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
A Yemeni man inspects the damage at a site reportedly hit by Saudi-led airstrikes in the capital Sanaa on January 6, 2016. Nearly 6,000 people have been killed since March, according to UN figures. At least 2,795 of them are civilians. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAISMOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Yemeni blind and disabled people shout slogans during a demonstration to protest after a centre for the blind was reportedly destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes in the capital Sanaa on January 6, 2016. Nearly 6,000 people have been killed since March, according to UN figures. At least 2,795 of them are civilians. AFP/Getty Images
A Yemeni man inspects the damage at a site reportedly hit by Saudi-led airstrikes in the capital Sanaa on January 6, 2016. Nearly 6,000 people have been killed since March, according to UN figures. At least 2,795 of them are civilians. AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAISMOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

David Cameron has defended the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen and dismissed concerns that the Wahhabi state is funding Isis.

The Prime Minister also defended arms exports to the oil-rich country and said that the UK monitors how British weapons are used.

The civil war in Yemen has killed more than 5,800 people since March (AP)
The civil war in Yemen has killed more than 5,800 people since March (AP)

He BBC Radio 4’s Today program: "Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is important for our own security. They are opponents of Daesh [Islamic State] and this extremist terrorism.

"In terms of our arms exports, I think we have some of the most stringent controls anywhere in the world and I’ll always make sure they’re properly operated.

"We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure that the work done by Saudi Arabia is properly targeted and it’s right that we should do that.

"We’re working with them and others on behalf of the legitimate government on Yemen."

Cameron said that some educational training programmes funded by Saudi Arabia could be problematic, though he did not directly link them with extremists.

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"We do need to look at where the money... it is already illegal for anyone to fund extremist groups in our country. We ban, proscribe, extremist groups," he said.

"I think there are deeper connections where you see what is being taught in schools - not perhaps always here but around the world - and the money that is funding those educational materials."

The Conservative government has licenced £5.6bn in sales of arms, fighter jets and other military hardware to Saudi Arabia since David Cameron came to power, according to new figures released this month.

New research by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) states that in the nearly six years since Mr Cameron’s election in May 2010, the UK has sold weapons to 24 of the 27 states included on its own list of “countries of humanitarian concern”.

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The deals come alongside over £2bn in sales to other countries accused of abusing of human rights.

All of the other 24 have been licenced to make deals with British companies, from Saudi Arabia’s ongoing purchase of 72 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft (which will be worth a total of £4.5bn upon completion) right down to Eritrea’s solitary £8,600 purchase of body armour. Overall, these deals are worth £6.2bn.

Aside from the purchase of the Typhoon jets, major deals between Saudi Arabia and British companies include a £1.6bn agreement for Hawk fighter jets and bulk sales of machine guns, bombs and tear gas.

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Saudi Arabia have access to twice as many British-made warplanes as the RAF does, while bombs originally stockpiled by Britain's Armed Forces are being sent to Saudi Arabia for use in their bombing campaign against Houthi insurgents in Yemen.

A UN investigation into Saudi war crimes in the Gulf’s poorest nation was blocked by the Saudis themselves. It has been claimed that the Saudis' appointment on to the UN’s human rights council may have been secured thanks to a secret voting deal forged with the UK.

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The Government is facing calls to halt the sales of arms to Saudi Arabia amid claims British-made weapons could have been used in air strikes which have left thousands of civilians dead in Yemen's bloody civil war.

Human rights organisations have warned the UK is breaking national, EU and international law by supplying weapons to the Saudis while their warplanes carried out bombing raids in support of the Yemeni government.

However, the Foreign Office has insisted that Britain is not in breach of its international obligations and that it operated one of the most rigorous and transparent arms control regimes in the world.

Last month Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia was "illegal, immoral and indefensible".

"The UK has fuelled this appalling conflict through reckless arms sales which break its own laws and the global Arms Trade Treaty it once championed," she said.

"Thousands of civilians have been killed in Saudi-led air strikes, and there's a real risk that misery was 'made in Britain'."

Since the war in Yemen broke out in March, nearly 3,000 civilians have been killed and 1 million have been displaced, according to UN figures.

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