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Middle East

Defence minister denies French arms used in Yemen conflict

media A devastated district in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, earlier this month REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

French Defence Minister Florence Parly on Friday told students that she was "horrified" by the situation in wartorn Yemen. But she said she did not believe weapons sold to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were being used against civilians there.

"I am perfectly aware that in Yemen the situation is disastrous," Parly told students at the prestigious Sciences Po university in Paris. ""I'm as horrified as you."

A coalition led by Saudi Arabia is backing the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi against Houthi militias and supporters of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The UN has described the situation as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 10,000 killed - most of them civilians - and eight million people on the brink of famine.

NGOs, notably Amnesty International, have accused France of complicity in war crimes by continuing to sell arms to France Saudi Arabia and the UAE, another coalition member.

But Parly insisted that "To the best of my knowledge, no weapons sold by France are being used against the civilian population."

Hard to monitor arms exports

Saudi Arabia uses French weapons "to defend itself", she said, pointing out that missiles were regularly fired from Yemen towards the kingdom.

But she did concede that it is difficult to monitor the use of arms sold to another country.

"You can't foresee all the dangers so it is important to have a close and healthy dialogue with countries that use these armaments," she said, adding that that is the case with the UAE, where France has an air base and an artillery training base.

"We have the capacity to talk to these countries and we won't fail to do so," she assured her audience.

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