The government of Wallonia has decided not to issue any more arms export licences for weapons destined for the Saudi Arabian air force. However it will continue to allow arms exports to the Saudi royal guard and the national guard.
The ban on exports to the Saudi air force is based on widespread reports that the arms, regardless of the destination stated on the licence application, are finding their way to the conflict in Yemen, where Saudi-backed rebels are fighting a civil war against the government.
But that accusation was made against the national guard itself last year in the #BelgianArms dossier reported in Knack, Le Soir and the VRT, but despite that, the outfit continues to receive arms from Wallonia.
Elio Di Rupo, Walloon minister-president, defended the decision to supply the national guard and royal guard.
“These weapons are destined strictly for the protection of members of the royal family and notable religious sites, or for the protection of the country on the inside of the national borders,” he said. “They are not intended to be used in Yemen.”
“We are taken aback by this decision,” said Philippe Hensmans, director of the French-speaking part of Amnesty. “Contrary to what Mr Di Rupo claims, the national guard, armed by the Walloon region, certainly is active on Yemeni territory, using Walloon military equipment.”
According to Amnesty, sales of arms from Wallonia to Saudi Arabia increased by €70 million in 2018, according to the government’s own annual report on weapons export licences. The granting or otherwise of export licences is a matter for the regions. Sales went up from €153 million in 2017 to €223 million in 2018, making Saudi Arabia the region’s largest single customer for arms.
According to Le Vif, Di Rupo took the decision to allow the export licence without the knowledge of his government partners Ecolo and MR. “The decision is the responsibility of the minister-president alone, as defined by the delegation of responsibilities,” his spokesperson Philippe Henry told the magazine.
Flanders, meanwhile, has stopped granting all arms sales to Saudi Arabia, while the Brussels region has no arms manufacturers of its own.