By Senior News Editor Paul Tyson
ITV News has seen evidence that suggests British cluster bombs have been used in the war in Yemen.
A Houthi fighter showed us photographs he says he took in March this year showing British cluster bomblets in the front line region of Baqim. The metadata on the photographs support his account and an independent munitions expert has identified the bombs as British-made IBL755s.
- ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery reports
The fighter, who does not want to be identified, says he has responsibility for ordnance disposal in the area and was alerted to the bombs by villagers.
On the same phone he showed us other photographs of cluster munitions from various countries including America and video of his team disposing of bomblets by blowing them up.
In the neighbouring governorate of Hajjah we filmed a partially-deployed British cluster bomb found in a field in north Yemen in January. Now sitting in a disused police station the bomb was photographed in situ and verified by researchers from Amnesty International. The photographs they say, clearly demonstrate that the bomb was dropped recently.
The American-trained and UN-funded head of Yemen's mine-clearance group YEMAC also says he believes the use of British cluster bombs here is widespread. Ahmed Alawi told us: "We found three pieces only up to now. "We are sure that if we continue work…we will work in the same areas again and are sure that we will find a lot."
In 2010 Britain agreed to ban these weapons and do everything possible to prevent their use by anyone else. If Britain's close ally Saudi Arabia is using cluster bombs in this war Britain could be accused of violating the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
The government denies that British cluster bombs have been used in this war. Defence Procurement Minister Philip Dunne told parliament in May that: "Based on all the information available to us including sensitive coalition operational reporting we assess that no UK-supplied cluster weapons have been used."
Responding to Amnesty International’s report he added: "It is unclear from the evidence provided thus far that the munitions came from the current conflict."
This is important. If the weapons were dropped in a previous war before Britain signed the treaty then the government is in the clear. Yet for this to be true the weapon Amnesty recorded would have had to have lain in the open undiscovered since at least 2009.
ITV News footage shows the bomb in apparently excellent condition. Other bombs we have seen in Yemen show signs of corrosion after just a few months in the open. Likewise the bomblets in the photographs we were shown are also largely free of damage from sun, wind and rain.
Mine clearance group YEMAC has long experience of clearing unexploded bombs from the old border wars. Ahmed Alawi has worked for the group since 1989 and says he has no doubt the British cluster bombs are not a legacy of old conflicts. "Actually during the old war we started to deal with the cluster bombs in 2010 after the old war…and we found we were dealing with only one kind of cluster bomb. We found this other [British] kind only recently," he said.
The front-line areas along the border are too dangerous for us to visit. The Yemeni fighter who showed us the cluster bomb photos told us that all vehicle movement is targeted by Saudi warplanes, even motorbikes are hit. But he is sure that if the ceasefire holds allowing journalists and human rights groups to access the villages on the border many more will be found.