Yemen’s war must stop, France’s Defence Minister Florence Parly said Tuesday, toughening Paris’ stance as photographs of starving children trigger outrage around the world.
“It is more than time that this war ended and it is also important — even France’s priority — that the humanitarian situation must improve and that humanitarian aid can get through,” Parly told BFM television and RMC radio.
“This military situation is an effective dead-end so this war must stop. That’s a priority.”
More than 22 million Yemenis — three quarters of the population — are in need of humanitarian assistance in a conflict that has raged since 2015, when Saudi Arabia and its allies began bombing Huthi rebels.
Like other Western nations, France has come under increasing pressure over its arms supplies to the kingdom since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul this month.
French President Emmanuel Macron insisted last week that sales of weapons to Riyadh — France’s second biggest customer after India — have “nothing to do with Mr Khashoggi”.
“One shouldn’t mix everything up,” Macron said, blasting calls to halt arms sales over the killing as “pure demagoguery”.
“I can understand the link with Yemen, but there isn’t any with Mr Khashoggi,” he added.
Parly reiterated her earlier insistence that France does not believe its arms have been used against civilians in Yemen.
“To my knowledge, the weapons we have sold recently have not been used against civilians,” she said.
She defended France’s “relatively modest” weapons exports to Saudi Arabia, saying they were subject to tight restrictions.
“We don’t sell weapons like they’re baguettes,” she said.
She added that France was exerting “relentless pressure” through the United Nations for a political settlement in Yemen.
Yemeni officials said Tuesday that the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-linked Huthis had sent 10,000 new troops towards the vital rebel-held port city of Hodeida.
Fighting has killed almost 10,000 people since the coalition intervened, and sparked what the UN has labelled the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The world body warned last week that 14 million people in Yemen now face a serious threat of famine.