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Saudi Arabia still biggest buyer of French arms despite Paris reduction of weapons export in 2020

The file photo shows a French-made Rafale fighter jet.

Saudi Arabia imported more than $850 billion worth of weapons from France last year, making it the biggest buyer of French arms even as the European country reduced its weapons exports, the French defense ministry says.

According to the annual report on arms exports submitted to the French Parliament by the ministry of defense on Tuesday, the Saudi regime was still the top buyer of French arms in 2020 despite the fact that Paris dramatically cut arms exports by 41 percent last year.

The drastic decline in arms exports, which has been blamed on the COVID-19 crisis and the lack of big contracts, made it possible for France to collect only 4.9 billion euros, compared to 8.3 billion euros the previous year.

However, the biggest clients, according to the report, were Saudi Arabia (€704 million), the United States (€434 million) and Morocco (€426 million).

French arms to Saudi Arabia have been a matter of concern for rights organizations and groups due to a years-long bloody war in impoverished Yemen. 

Late last year, fourteen humanitarian and human rights non-governmental organizations called for an end to France’s opacity on arms exports and to establish real parliamentary control over such exports.

They said that it had been detected that French arms sales were responsible for certain serious violations of humanitarian law, particularly in Yemen with dramatic consequences for Yemenis.

Back in March, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in a report that the US accounted for 37 percent of global arms sales between 2016 and 2020, and that Saudi Arabia was the world's largest weapons importer during the period.

“Almost half of its sales (47 percent) went to the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia being the main recipient of US arms transfers in 2016–20, accounting for 24 percent of US arms exports,” it said at the time.

The Saudi-led military aggression, which began in March 2015, has left hundreds of thousands of Yemenis dead, and displaced millions more. The Saudi war has also destroyed Yemen's infrastructure and spread famine and infectious diseases across the country.

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