April 5, 2018 / 8:06 PM / 17 days ago

Ahead of Saudi prince visit, Macron lawmaker asks for inquiry over French arms sales

PARIS (Reuters) - A lawmaker in President Emmanuel Macron’s party has officially asked for a parliamentary investigation into the legality of French weapons sales to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, days before the kingdom’s crown prince arrives in France.

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the Artificial Intelligence for Humanity event in Paris, France, March 29, 2018. Etienne Laurent/Pool via Reuters

Pressure has been mounting on Macron to scale back military support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are leading the coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi group that controls most of northern Yemen and the capital Sanaa.

The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 3 million with no sign of a diplomatic breakthrough to ease the crisis.

Seventy-five percent of French people want Macron to suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, a YouGov poll found. Several rights groups also have warned of possible legal action if the government does not halt its sales.

Sebastien Nadot, a lawmaker elected last year as part of hundreds of new parliamentarians who form Macron’s majority, said on Thursday he and 15 other co-signatories had officially filed a request for a commission of inquiry.

The inquiry asks for a 30-member commission “to study France’s compliance with international commitments regarding arms export licenses, munitions, training, services and assistance that our country has granted during these three years to the belligerents of the conflict in Yemen”.

It remains to be seen whether Nadot will now get the necessary backing from the foreign affairs committee and parliament.

The move by Nadot, which comes just three days before Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives in France for bilateral talks, is surprising in that Macron has faced little opposition in parliament since coming to power last year and commands an overwhelming majority, with few of his lawmakers willing to question the executive’s decisions.

France is the world’s third biggest arms exporter and counts the two countries among its biggest purchasers.

In a briefing ahead of Prince Mohammed’s visit, the French presidency defended its export procedures.

“There is a very strict control of arms exports ... which obeys very precise criteria, including the concern for situations in which civilian populations may be endangered “, a French presidential source said.

Unlike many of its allies, French export licensing procedures have no parliamentary checks or balances. They are approved through a committee headed by the prime minister that includes the foreign, defense and economy ministries.

Details of licenses are not public and, once approved, are rarely reviewed.

Reporting by John Irish and Marine Pennetier; Editing by Alison Williams

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