A French rights group sought to block the loading of what it said were munitions onto a Saudi Arabian ship docked in southern France, as an investigative website reported that the load was “howitzer munitions”.
The Paris-based Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) said in a statement it had filed a legal challenge to prevent the vessel from taking delivery of its cargo.
“The Bahri Tabuk is due to load French weapons for Saudi Arabia, one of the main belligerents in the Yemeni conflict. ACAT is …. mobilising and calling on civil society and local networks to prevent these munitions from going to Saudi Arabia,” it said.
Another Saudi ship the Bahri Yanbu, left France’s northern coast two weeks ago without a cargo of weapons after dockers threatened to block its arrival in the port of Le Havre.
ACAT had also filed a legal challenge to stop that consignment being loaded, arguing that it contravened a United Nations treaty because the arms might be used against civilians in the Yemeni conflict.
The Bahri Tabuk, which is owned by the same company as the previous Saudi vessel, docked on Tuesday afternoon and was due to load its cargo on Wednesday, dock workers union official Laurent Pastor told the Reuters news agency.
“It is out of the question that we load weapons or munitions for any war,” Pastor said. He said the cargo had initially been due to include electrical transformers and that the union would check it again on Wednesday.
Cargo is ‘howitzer munitions’
Citing sources, online investigative site Disclose said on Tuesday the cargo to be loaded at the port of Marseille-Fos included munitions for Caesar howitzers.
Rights groups accuse Riyadh of using the French weapons against civilians in Yemen, where around 10,000 people have died since it began its offensive in 2015 with its ally the United Arab Emirates.
Defence Minister Florence Parly told MPs she had no information on the shipment and that in any case France had a partnership with Saudi Arabia.
“We are checking this out,” Parly said.
“And if this is indeed the case, would it be surprising? No, because we have an accord with Saudi Arabia,” she said.
However, a representative in France for the Saudi shipping company involved denied any plans for a weapons shipment, saying the vessel was picking up only electricity production units from Germany’s Siemens, for civil use.
“The reports about a load of weapons or explosives is completely false,” the official told the AFP news agency.
Paris defends arms sales
Earlier on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian repeated calls for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to end the “dirty war” in Yemen but defended French arms sales.
“We have to be extremely vigilant on arms sales for these countries. That’s what we are doing and we are completely respecting the treaty that concerns weapons trade,” he said.
In April Disclose published classified French military intelligence that showed weapons sold to Saudi Arabia, including tanks and laser-guided missile systems, were being used against civilians in Yemen’s war.
Four of its reporters have been questioned by France’s internal DGSI intelligence agency over the leak, which the government has said is unacceptable. Rights groups have accused the French government of trying to intimidate the press and curb its freedoms.
The UN says the Yemeni conflict is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 3.3 million people displaced by the fighting and 24.1 million in need of aid.