LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said on Thursday it would take “extremely seriously” the findings of a United Nations report which says British military ally Saudi Arabia could have committed crimes against humanity in Yemen.
A United Nations report on Wednesday said the Saudi-led coalition has targeted civilians in Yemen, documenting 119 sorties “relating to violations of international humanitarian law”.
The report has put political pressure on the British government which provides training to the Saudi military and has approved billions of pounds worth of military exports to the country.
British foreign office minister Tobias Ellwood said he had not yet received the report officially from the UN but that he had seen some of its contents.
“I will take the report extremely seriously, this absolutely must be the case, and I commit to sit down with the Saudi Arabians at a very senior level ... and discuss the allegations,” Ellwood said.
In March, a Saudi-led coalition began a military campaign in Yemen to prevent Houthi rebels, whom it sees as a proxy for Iran, from taking complete control of Yemen after seizing much of the north. The Houthis accuse the coalition of launching a war of aggression.
Ellwood said the evidence in the report would need to be closely examined, stressing that it had been compiled by a panel that had not visited Yemen and had based its findings on satellite photographs.
“We must do this in a methodic way which is based on evidence,” he said.
According to official data compiled by pressure group the Campaign Against Arms Trade, Britain has granted licences for military goods to Saudi Arabia worth 4.6 billion pounds in the three years to September 2015.
The issue was raised in parliament by opposition lawmakers calling on the government to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia while the allegations were investigated.
Ellwood rejected that call saying that while British-supplied military equipment was being used by Saudi Arabia in the conflict, the government was satisfied that all its arms exports to the country met with Britain’s licensing criteria.
Reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison