SANAA, France is a signatory of the UN Arms Trade Treaty that regulates the international trade of conventional weapons.
French weapons are being used by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in Yemen, according to a classified note revealed by French media which contradicts the claims of France's government.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia deployed a range of French weaponry from artillery to ships in their war against Yemeni people.
France, the third-biggest arms exporter in the world, counts Saudi Arabia and the UAE as loyal clients in the Middle East, its biggest regional market in 2017.
Under pressure from rights groups in France over the sales, the French government has always insisted that French arms are only used in defensive circumstances to deter attacks by the Houthis. France is the world's third-biggest arms exporter, its sales having increased fourfold under Macron's predecessor, Francois Hollande. Between 2008 and 2017, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were, respectively, its second and sixth biggest export markets, according to the French defence ministry.
Leaked intelligence published by investigative website Disclose showed that French arms, including tanks and laser-guided missile systems sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, were being used in the Yemeni war against civilians.
The 15-page note also by France's DRM military intelligence agency showed that French arms including tanks and laser-guided missile systems sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are being used in the conflict, and that swathes of Yemen's civilian population live within their range.
The report demonstrates that large numbers of Yemenis live under the threat of the French-made arms, according to Disclose.
Though intended only for Macron, his prime minister, and the foreign and defence ministers, the document was eventually leaked to the independent investigative website Disclose, which published it in full , casting unwanted attention on France's involvement in the war devastating Yemen.
The report prompted renewed criticism from opposition politicians and NGOs, with the head of Human Rights Watch in France, Benedicte Jeannerod, stating that the government can no longer deny the risk of complicity in war crimes
The intelligence document states that Caesar cannons, manufactured by French company Nexter and deployed along the Saudi-Yemeni frontier, conduct defensive shelling of Yemeni forces as well as back up "loyalist troops and Saudi armed forces in their progression into Yemeni territory".
The four-year conflict in Yemen has shattered its economy and created one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, the UN says. More than 10,000 civilians have been killed and some 10 million people have been driven to the brink of famine.
Asked for comment by AFP, the French government said that to our knowledge, the French weapons owned by members of the coalition are for the most part in defensive positions, outside of Yemen or in military bases, not on the frontline.
Other countries have suspended weapons sales to Saudi Arabia over humanitarian concerns stemming from the Yemen conflict. Last month Germany extended an embargo on weapons exports to Saudi Arabia by six months, and called on France and the United Kingdom to ensure that weapons delivered to Saudi Arabia or the UAE would not be deployed in Yemen.
Germany has imposed an embargo on arms exports to Saudi Arabia over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi 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.
On November 22, Finland said it would not allow new arms export authorizations to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates over the situation in Yemen, following a decision by Denmark's foreign minister to suspend exports of military equipment to Saudi Arabia due to concerns over the Yemen war and murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Earlier, Norway said it would freeze all defense material export licenses to Saudi Arabia, including those for dual-use items.
But some other countries have stuck by the kingdom rather than use lucrative arms deals. Spain said it will go ahead with the delivery of 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia, after earlier saying it would block the sale. The u-turn came amid concerns that cancellation of the deal could have jeopardized a Euros 1.8 billion ($2.04 billion) order of five Corvette warships.
Macron's government has repeatedly claimed that French arms sold to Saudi Arabia and its allies are used solely for defensive purposes, a stance that has become increasingly hard to maintain as the death toll from the devastating conflict continues to rise.
The scale of the bloodshed, coupled with the outrage prompted by Khashoggi's brutal murder, has prompted growing criticism of the Western powers � chief among them the US, Britain and France � that arm the Saudi coalition.
The DRM's 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".
A second, six-page DRM intelligence report distributed more widely, according to Disclose, showed Leclerc tanks were deployed in defensive positions in a handful of bases in south-eastern Yemen. Amnesty International reported in 2016 that France transferred four Caesar 155mm self-propelled guns to Saudi Arabia in 2015.
Leclerc tanks, sold in the 1990s to the UAE, have also been used, as have Mirage 2000-9 fighter jets, while French missile-guiding technology called Damocles might have been deployed, according to the assessment.
Disclose said it had identified on satellite images the presence of Leclerc tanks, on November 11, 2018, close to habitations located about 5 km (about three miles) from the key Red Sea port city of Hodeidah.
Cougar transport helicopters and the A330 MRTT refueling plane have also seen action, deployed over Yemen from military bases Khamis Mushait and Jizan in Saudi Arabia, and two French-made ships are serving in the blockade of Yemeni ports which has led to food and medical shortages, the DRM military intelligence agency concluded.
The ships were identified as the Saudi Royal Navy's Al-Riyadh-class frigate Makkah � manufactured by Armaris, a former joint venture of DCN (now Naval Group) and Thales � and a Baynunah-class corvette owned by the UAE Navy. The Baynunah-class corvettes were designed by Abu Dhabi Ship Building and the French shipyard Constructions Mecaniques de Normandie.
The classified note also contains a map estimating that over 430,000 Yemenis live within the range of French artillery weapons on the Saudi-Yemeni border. It further estimated that French weapons have resulted in civilian casualties.
Germany would have profited considerably from arms deals with Saudi Arabia, which was very interested in German arms, particularly German tanks. The stakes were just as important, he said, suggesting Berlin's policy change reflected a cultural difference.
In Germany and in several Nordic countries there is traditionally much stronger political pressure to be more careful with arms exports, Wezeman added.
Critics of the French government say it is in clear breach of its obligations under the ATT.
The sensitive issue has put France at odds with its key partner Germany, which imposed an embargo on arms exports to Riyadh in the wake of Khashoggi's murder. The move sparked stinging criticism from Paris and London, with Macron accusing the German government of demagoguery.
The trouble is France's army is too small for the amount of weapons produced, said A�lie Tenenbaum, a research fellow at the IFRI Security Studies Centre in Paris, in an interview with FRANCE 24. To remain profitable, French firms have to focus on exports. They would rather export to Europe, but the market is dominated by US competitors. So they have to turn to the Middle-East. France, the United States, Britain and other Western countries have faced criticism over arms sales to the Saudi regime and its partners over consequences for a war that has affected 28 million Yemenis and caused what the United Nations calls one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.
Source: Yemen News Agency