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France

Rights groups urge Macron to pressure Abu Dhabi Crown Prince over Yemen war

media Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the Saudi-UAE Summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 6, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTER

Rights groups in France and abroad are calling on President Emmanuel Macron to raise concerns over war violations in Yemen with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed as he visits Paris on Wednesday.

One of the most influential leaders in the Arab world, MBZ, as he's known, is expected to meet with Macron, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

France is a leading supplier of arms to the United Arab Emirates and to Saudi Arabia, which are both part of a coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen. They have been accused of indiscriminate strikes that have hit the civilian population hard - bombing homes, markets and schools.

Appeal by NGOs

A partial blockade by the Saudi-led coalition has left an estimated 22 million people in desperate need of humanitarian aid. The charity Save The Children on Tuesday said some 85,000 children under the age of five may have died from acute malnutrition in Yemen's three years of war.

In statements released Tuesday, French and international NGOs have urged Macron to threaten to stop the supply of weapons to the UAE if they risk being used to commit violations of international law.

Human Rights Watch has documented nearly 90 apparently unlawful coalition attacks, some of them likely war crimes. Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch, said: “As the UAE’s de facto leader and deputy commander of its armed forces, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed could have acted to stop grave abuses in Yemen, but instead war crimes have mounted.”

Regional heavyweight

At age 57, MBZ is still only the Crown Prince - and not the Emir - of the UAE, a federation of seven petrol-rich emirates. He is de facto ruler though, with his half brother Sheikh Khalifa sidelined since suffering a stroke in 2014.

Researcher Fatiha Dazi-Heni, a specialist of Gulf monarchies, told RFI that MBZ is more discreet than his neighbour, Mohamed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. He's also his mentor. The younger Saudi prince, aged in his 30s, has long been fascinated by MBS, who he considers a visionary, Dazi-Heni says. "Everyone knows they need each other. MBS needs the experience of MBZ and, conversely, MBZ needs the suppport of MBS to fulfil his dreams of conquest."

The UAE has imposed itself as a regional military power, implicated in the Libyan conflict as well as the war in Yemen. MBZ has built a modern Emirati army that is "over-armed" and "at war", says Dazi-Heni - so much so that it's been nicknamed "the Sparta of the Middle East" in reference to the ancient Greek city known for the formidable effectiveness of its army.

Franco-Emirati cooperation

France and the UAE have long had close ties. Abu Dhabi is home to France's only permanent military base in the region - Al Dhafra, on the shores of the Persian Gulf, less than 250 kilometres from the Iranian coast.

The last few years have seen that relationship strengthen further - with bilateral deals being agreed across a range of areas including security, trade, and cultural exchanges. This time last year, President Macron was in the UAE to inaugurate the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a museum whose sole purpose is to promote cultural exchange between East and West.

The Sorbonne University also has an outpost in the Emirates and, just last month, the UAE joined the International Organization of the Francophonie, which promotes the spread of French language and French values.

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