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UAE 'recklessly' arming Yemen militias accused of war crimes: Amnesty

The WHO estimates over 10,000 people have died in Yemen's war [AFP]

Date of publication: 6 February, 2019

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Advanced Western-supplied weaponry is falling into the hands of war-crime accused militias in Yemen by way of the UAE, a new Amnesty report says.

The UAE is "recklessly" arming unaccountable militias - many of which are accused of war crimes - in Yemen with advanced weaponry, a new Amnesty International report says.

The investigation, entitled "When arms go astray: Yemen's deadly new threat of arms diversion to militias", details how armoured vehicles, mortar systems, rifles, pistols, and machine guns are being illicitly diverted to unaccountable militias fighting in Yemen's ongoing conflict.

"While the USA, the UK, France and other European states have rightly been criticised for supplying arms to Coalition forces, and Iran has been implicated in sending arms to the Huthis, a deadly new threat is emerging. Yemen is quickly becoming a safe haven for UAE-backed militias that are largely unaccountable,” said Patrick Wilcken, Arms Control and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International.

"Emirati forces receive billions of dollars' worth of arms from Western states and others, only to siphon them off to militias in Yemen that answer to no-one and are known to be committing war crimes."

Amnesty lists "The Giants", the Security Belt and Elite Forces as being among the groups trained and armed by the Gulf state in Yemen.

Some of the militias are accused of war crimes and other serious violations, including during the recent offensive on the port city of Hodeidah and in the UAE-backed network of secret prisons in southern Yemen.

According to analysis of open-source evidence carried out by Amnesty on the battle for Hodeidah, military vehicles and weapons supplied to the UAE by Western states and others are now widely in use by militias on the ground.

This includes a wide variety of US-supplied armoured vehicles equipped with heavy machine guns, including M-ATV, Caiman and MaxxPro models, which have been documented in the hands of UAE-backed militias Security Belt, Shabwani elite forces and "The Giants".

Belgian Minimi light machine guns, also likely sold to the UAE, are being deployed by "The Giants", according to the report.

Other weapons used by UAE-allied militias in Hodeidah include Serbian-made Zastava MO2 Coyote machine guns and the Agrab armoured-truck-mounted Singaporean 120mm mortar system - the UAE is the only country known to purchase this combined weapon system.

Amnesty has urged countries to cease sales of arms to all of Yemen's warring parties.

"As the next round of peace talks on Yemen’s conflict looms, arms-supplying states need to reflect hard on how their arms transfers are continuing to directly and indirectly fuel war crimes and other serious violations. The proliferation of unaccountable, UAE-backed militias is worsening the humanitarian crisis and posing a growing threat to the civilian population," said Wilcken.

The Yemen conflict has triggered what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with millions of people at risk of mass starvation.

The war between the Houthis and troops loyal to the government escalated in March 2015, when President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia and the Riyadh-led coalition intervened.

The World Health Organisation has put the death toll since 2015 at about 10,000 people but rights groups say that figure could be five times higher.

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