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David Cameron accused of silently taking Britain into Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen

Britain is supplying military equipment, weapons, and advisors to Saudi Arabia

Jon Stone
Wednesday 20 January 2016 14:04 GMT
David Cameron was cornered by the Scottish National Party on the issue at PMQs
David Cameron was cornered by the Scottish National Party on the issue at PMQs (PA)

David Cameron has been accused of silently dragging Britain into another conflict in the Middle East without parliamentary approval or oversight.

Angus Robertson, the Scottish National Party’s leader at Westminster, said the Prime Minister should admit to British involvement in Saudi Arabia’s invasion of Yemen – where the UK is providing arms, training and advice.

The call comes as new figures released by the Government show that British bomb and missile exports to Saudi Arabia have increased by 11,000 per cent from £9 million to £1 billion over three months last year.

Saudi Arabia has been accused of war crimes by human rights groups and the legality of British military assistance to the country has been questioned by campaigners.

“Thousands of civilians have been killed in Yemen, including a large number by the Saudi air force and they’ve done that using British-built planes, with pilots who are trained by British instructors, dropping British-made bombs, who are coordinated by the Saudis in the presence of British military advisors,” Mr Robertson said during Prime Minister’s Questions.

“Isn’t it time for the Prime Minister to admit that Britain is effectively taking part in a war in Yemen that is costing thousands of civilians lives and he has not sought parliamentary approval to do this?”

The Prime Minister rejected the suggestion that the UK was taking part in the conflict but admitted that British advisors had a role in Saudi Arabia.

Policemen search for survivors at the site of a Saudi-led airstrike on the police headquarters in Sanaa (AP)

“I think the Right Honourable Gentleman started in a serious place and then wondered off. It’s in our interest to back the legitimate government of Yemen. We have some of the most stringent arms control procedures of any country in the world,” he replied.

“Just to be absolutely clear about our role: we’re not a member of the Saudi-led coalition, British military personnel are not directly involved in the Saudi-led coalition’s operations, personnel are not involved in carrying out strikes, directing or conducting operations in Yemen or selecting targets and we’re not involved in the Saudi targeting decision making process.

“But yes – do we provide advice, help and training in order to make sure that countries actually do obey the norms of humanitarian law? Yes we do.”

Saudi Arabia is intervening in Yemen to fight Houthi rebels, who control the country’s capital but are not internationally recognised as its government. The Kingdom was asked to join the conflict by the country’s Government, which has been pushed out of much of the country’s heartland.

Criticism of the Saudi military operation have however included the bombing of multiple hospitals run by the charity Médecins Sans Frontières and the deaths of thousands of civilians, including 130 at a single wedding.

While international observers have recognised abuses on all sides, in late December UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein said that a “disproportionate” number of attacks of civilians in Yemen had come from the Saudi-led invasion force.

“I have observed with extreme concern the continuation of heavy shelling from the ground and the air in areas with high a concentration of civilians as well as the perpetuation of the destruction of civilian infrastructure – in particular hospitals and schools – by all parties to the conflict, although a disproportionate amount appeared to be the result of airstrikes carried out by Coalition Forces,” Mr Zeid said.

Medics attend to the aftermath of an air strike on a police station in Yemen's capital Sanaa (Reuters)

Human rights group Amnesty International UK has also accused the Government of ignoring “overwhelming evidence” of civilian targeting by the Saudi Arabian air force.

"Angus Robertson has raised an important point about the UK’s involvement in Saudi Arabia’s indiscriminate bombing campaign in Yemen, a campaign we’re told involves British advisers actually located in the Saudi ‘control room’,” said Allan Hogarth, the group’s head of Policy and Government Affairs.

"Thousands of Yemeni civilians have already been killed in a barrage of indiscriminate Saudi airstrikes in the country and whatever advice Britain has been giving to the Saudis has apparently done little to prevent this appalling death toll.

"Meanwhile, the UK is selling billions of pounds worth of weapons to the Saudis in the full knowledge of the grave risk that they’ll be used to kill Yemeni civilians.

"Instead of brushing aside Mr Robertson’s questions, the prime minister should immediately suspend export licences for all further UK arms bound for Saudi Arabia and allow a full investigation into allegations of serious breaches of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.”

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