After nearly 20 months of war in which thousands of civilians have been killed and injured in airstrikes, the Saudi government admitted to the use of British-made cluster munitions in Yemen, confirming Amnesty International’s finding that this type had been used since at least December 2015.
Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asiri, the spokesperson for the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition, said Riyadh would cease the use of U.K.-made BL-755 cluster munitions.
"BL-755 bombs are used in a limited way and not in residential areas. We do not use the bombs in areas populated by civilians," al-Asiri said. "This munition was used against legitimate military targets to defend Saudi towns and villages against continuous attacks by Houthi militia, which resulted in Saudi civilian casualties."
"The government of Saudi Arabia confirms that it has decided to stop the use of cluster munitions of the type BL-755 and informed the United Kingdom government of that," read the official statement of the Saudi government.
Interestingly in 2015, the very same al-Asiri criticized the Human Rights Watch for spreading “not so solid” news as he claimed cluster ammunition had been used only against armored vehicles.
James Lynch, head of arms control and human rights at Amnesty International, is amazed that it took the Gulf kingdom so long to take this step.
“It’s astonishing that it has taken this long for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition to formally admit that it used inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions in the Yemen conflict,” he says.
In London, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon also confirmed that the coalition had dropped "a limited number" of U.K.-supplied cluster munitions in Yemen.
Britain, a signatory to the international convention which prohibits use of the munitions, has been investigating whether the coalition dropped the BL-755 munitions in Yemen following an Amnesty International report published earlier in the year.
Cluster bombs, dropped by air or fired by artillery, scatter hundreds of bomblets across a wide area. Sometimes they fail to explode and are difficult to locate and remove, killing and maiming civilians long after conflicts end.
They pose a particular risk to children, who can be attracted by their toy-like appearance and bright colors.
Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf began their military campaign in Yemen in March last year with the aim of preventing the Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemen's ex-president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, taking control of the country.
The war has killed more than 10,000 people and triggered humanitarian crises, including chronic food shortages, in the poorest country in the Arabian peninsula. Millions more have been displaced.