U.S. defends cluster bomb transfers in Yemen

Saudi coalition spokesman dismisses a HRW report on cluster bomb use in Yemen as ‘incredible’

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The United States on Sunday defended its supplies of cluster munitions after Human Rights Watch said the bombs had been used by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, while a Saudi spokesman dismissed the HRW report.

"We take all accounts of civilian deaths due to the ongoing hostilities in Yemen very seriously," a U.S. Defense Department official told Agence France-Presse.

"We call upon all sides to comply with international humanitarian law and to take all feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians."

The remarks came after HRW said it had gathered photographs, video and other evidence indicating that cluster munitions had been used in coalition air strikes against the Houthi militia stronghold of Saada province in Yemen's northern mountains in recent weeks.

It said that analysis of satellite imagery suggested that the weapons had landed on a cultivated plateau, within 600 meters of populated areas.

In comments carried by the Financial Times, Saudi coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asiri dismissed the HRW report as “incredible.”

Asiri said the rights group had “answered its own question” when it noted that the bombs were used to target vehicles, not people.

“He declined to comment further on the coalition’s use of such arms, but suggested HRW instead focus on the many rights violations carried out by the Houthi rebels, whom he claimed had been attacking the population and putting people in danger by using civilian infrastructure during the war,” the FT report added.

Meanwhile, the U.S. official said Washington was "looking carefully" into the HRW report's claims.

The weapon is banned by the Convention on Cluster Munitions but Washington permits its use and export because it boasts an unexploded ordnance rate of less than one percent. Cluster munitions are also prohibited by a 2008 treaty adopted by 116 countries, but not by Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners or the United States.

The pointed to that policy to highlight Washington's "stringent requirements."

US Defense Department official added that "recipients of such transfers must commit that cluster munitions will only be used against clearly defined military targets and will not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians," the official added.

"This is obviously a critical element of the policy."

[With AFP]

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