Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

UK cluster bombs used by Saudi-led forces in Yemen, says Sir Michael Fallon

UK-supplied cluster bombs have been used by Saudi Arabian-led forces in the war in Yemen, the Defence Secretary has said.

Sir Michael Fallon told MPs a "limited number" of BL-755 cluster munitions exported from the UK in the 1980s were dropped by the Arab coalition in January.

But he said the coalition claimed the bombs were used against a "legitimate military target" meaning international humanitarian law had not been breached.

Sir Michael welcomed Saudi Arabia's confirmation that it will not use further BL-755s.

The UK Government has requested the Saudis destroy the remaining stock of cluster bombs although Sir Michael was unable to tell MPs how many had been exported to Saudi Arabia.

Britain's sales of military equipment to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies will be kept under review, Sir Michael said.

Labour described the cluster bomb revelations as as "deeply worrying".

Making a statement in the Commons, Sir Michael told MPs: "One specific allegation - that UK-supplied cluster munitions were used in January this year - was raised in this House on May 24.

"The United Kingdom signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008 and has not supplied any such weapons to Saudi Arabia since 1989 - over a quarter of a century ago.

"Our initial view, set out by the then minister of state for defence procurement and based on information we held at the time, was that a UK weapon had not been used but we committed to analyse the allegation and to seek a full investigation by the coalition.

"That investigation has now concluded. The coalition confirmed earlier today that a limited number of BL-755 cluster munitions exported from the United Kingdom in the 1980s were dropped in Yemen, including in the incident alleged by Amnesty International not far from the Saudi border by a coalition aircraft."

The prime minister of Yemen's rebel Houthi government has accused the UK of "war crimes" for supplying arms to the coalition which is conducting military operations to restore the previous regime overthrown last year.

Cluster bombs are designed to release dozens of smaller bombs over a wide area, but the smaller munitions do not always explode, posing a major future risk to civilians.

The use of such bombs was banned in 2010 in an international treaty signed by Britain.

Sir Michael said: "The coalition, whose members are not party to the convention, has said the munitions were used against a legitimate military target and did not therefore contravene international humanitarian law.

"However, Saudi Arabia has now confirmed that it will not further use BL-755 cluster munitions and I welcome that."

Shadow defence minister Wayne David said: "The latest revelation about UK-made cluster munitions being used by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen is deeply worrying.

"Not only are these weapons immediately dangerous but they come with a toxic legacy - lying on battlefields and threatening civilians, especially children, long after a conflict has ended."

On how many cluster bombs had been exported to Saudi Arabia, Sir Michael told MPs: "I don't have to hand, and I'm not sure indeed we still have the records from right back in the 1980s, as to exactly how many cluster munitions were exported."

He added no British personnel were involved in the storage, transport, maintenance or deployment of cluster munitions in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is considering signing up to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Sir Michael noted.

The SNP's Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) questioned whether the weapons had been aimed at a military target, saying they were dropped on farmland.

Labour MP Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) said it reminded her of the situation around arms exports to Iraq in the 1980s.

She said: "Eventually, we had the Scott inquiry and we found out that ministers had misled us.

"Those who were here at that time, they should reflect on the kind of answers that were given to us.

"We knew what was going on in Iraq, we know what's going in the Yemen. How can we possibly support continuing to send arms to Saudi Arabia, which are being used in that country?"

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph