By Magdalena Mis
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A banned, British-made cluster bomb was used by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, Amnesty International said on Monday, warning that civilians returning home in northern Yemen risked injury and death from "minefields" of deadly cluster bombs.
Cluster bombs, dropped by air or fired by artillery, scatter hundreds of bomblets across a wide area which sometimes 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.
The BL-755 bomb, manufactured in Britain in the 1970s, was located by Amnesty in Hayran in northern Yemen near the Saudi border.
Amnesty said this was the first confirmed use of a British-manufactured cluster munitions since the adoption of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster bombs.
The bomb, designed to break into more than 2,000 fragments, is known to be in the stockpiles of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Amnesty said.
"Even after hostilities have died down, the lives and livelihoods of civilians, including young children, continue to be on the line in Yemen as they return to de facto minefields," said Lama Fakih, Amnesty International senior crisis adviser.
"They cannot live in safety until contaminated areas in and around their homes and fields are identified and cleared of deadly cluster bomb sub munitions and other unexploded ordnance," Fakih said in a statement.
A Saudi-led coalition began a military campaign in Yemen in March last year with the aim of preventing Iran-allied Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemen's ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking control of the country.
More than 6,000 Yemenis, about half of them civilians, have been killed in the fighting and airstrikes over the past year, the United Nations says. Millions more have been displaced.
The human rights group said during its recent mission it documented 10 new cases in which 16 civilians, including nine children, were killed or injured by cluster munitions between July 2015 and April 2016.
A British government spokesman said Britain was satisfied that its arms export licenses for Saudi Arabia were compliant with U.K. and EU criteria.
"The U.K. Government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world," he said in a statement.
Britain was not a member of the Saudi-led coalition and British personnel were not involved in carrying out strikes in Yemen, directing or conducting operations or selecting targets, he said.
Amnesty said since the start of the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen it documented the use five other types of cluster munitions used by the coalition forces manufactured by the United States and Brazil.
The United Nations said in January that "troubling reports" that cluster bombs have been used on civilian areas in the capital of Yemen could be a war crime.
Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB chief executive, said the Amnesty report was evidence that British arms sales were adding to suffering in Yemen.
"This underlines a simple truth - Britain's arms sales and technical military support are fuelling a brutal war in Yemen," Goldring said in a statement.
The spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition was not immediately available for a comment.
(Reporting by Magdalena Mis,; Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)