Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

British-made cluster bombs used in Yemen conflict, Defence Secretary confirms

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has confirmed British-made cluster bombs have been used by Saudi Arabian-led forces in the war in Yemen.

Sir Michael said the government had been informed "earlier today" by the Saudi administration that coalition forces had dropped a "limited number" of the munitions during the conflict.

He said he "welcomes" Saudi Arabia's new commitment to stop using British-made cluster weapons - known as BL-755s - in the war in Yemen.

Because of their extraordinary risk to civilians, cluster bombs were banned in an international treaty signed by Britain in 2008 that committed the country to preventing their use by other nations.

ITV News observed British-made BL-755 cluster bombs stored in a disused building in Yemen in October. Credit: ITV News

A claim that the BL-755 munitions were used in the Yemen conflict in January was first raised in the House of Commons in May after being reported by Amnesty International.

Repeated media reports - including by ITV News - in recent months have suggested cluster bombs made in the UK were being used in the Yemen conflict.

In October Saudi Arabia denied their use and claimed weapons seen by ITV News were relics from a previous conflict.

Sir Michael today confirmed to MPs the government raised the issue with the Saudi-led coalition, including the January incident, in the summer before hearing back from the Saudi government today.

May 24
Government pledges to probe alleged use of UK-supplied cluster bombs after question in the Commons.
Dec 19
Saudi Arabia confirms to government it used UK-supplied cluster bombs in Yemen conflict.

"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," Sir Michael told the Commons.

He said the Saudi government described their use as being against a "legitimate military target", but added: "Saudi Arabia has now confirmed that it will not further use BL-755 cluster munitions and I welcome that."

Sir Michael told MPs that Britain had not supplied Saudi Arabia with the cluster munitions since 1989.

He said the incident was in "complete contrast" to Russian and Syrian air strikes, claiming the Saudi-led coalition is prepared to "thoroughly" investigate allegations and take action.

Photographs of British-made IBL755s shown to ITV News by a Houthi fighter. Credit: ITV News

Sir Michael said Britain would continue to review its sales of military equipment to the country and other Gulf allies.

He said UK "pressure" and the investigation led to the Saudis ruling out further use of the weapons "after an investigation that continued throughout the autumn and only concluded in the last few days".

Labour's shadow defence minister Wayne David described the use of the cluster bombs as "deeply worrying" and asked: "Why has it taken so long to confirm that these weapons were in fact used?"

Sir Michael said the delays were on the Saudi side and admitted: "We too have been frustrated by the length of time that it has taken."

Sir Michael Fallon said Saudi Arabia claims its use of the bombs did not contravene international humanitarian law.

The Saudi government earlier confirmed the coalition had used the BL-755 cluster munitions in a statement quoted by the state news agency SPA.

The administration said it had used the devices, which scatter bomblets across a wide area, in a "limited" way to protect its borders.

Saudi Arabia said it had not violated international law because it had not signed up to the 2010 convention but had informed the UK government it had "decided to stop the use of cluster munitions of the type BL-755".

This partially-deployed British cluster bomb was found in a field in northern Yemen. Credit: ITV News

In October, ITV News was shown photographs of what appeared to be British-made munitions by a Houthi fighter that were found on a frontline region in March.

An independent munitions expert also identified the bombs as British-made IBL755s.

The prime minister of Yemen's rebel Houthi government, Abdel-Aziz bin Habtour, earlier accused the UK of "war crimes" for supplying arms to the coalition and said the country was profiting from the humanitarian crisis.

The Saudi-led coalition is conducting military operations in Yemen to restore the previous regime overthrown in 2015.

Amnesty International has called for an immediate suspension of all arms sales to Saudi Arabia "that risk fuelling these appalling atrocities in Yemen".