A leading U.S.-based foreign policy journal says the White House has quietly suspended the transfer of cluster bombs to ally Saudi Arabia, in response to the Sunni kingdom’s aerial war against Shi’ite rebels in Yemen.
Foreign Policy magazine, in a news story published Friday, quoted an unnamed senior U.S. official as saying a hold was placed on such shipments following reports that the Saudi-led coalition battling Houthi rebels used the controversial munitions in civilian areas.
More than 100 nations have signed a 2008 treaty banning the munitions, which are known for striking targets as duds, only to explode and maim civilians months or years later. Major cluster bomb manufacturing countries, including the United States, China and Russia, have not signed the agreement.
The U.S. move comes just weeks after the rights organization Human Rights Watch published a report detailing the use of cluster bombs near civilian areas in Yemen, located on the southern end of the Arabian peninsula.
That report builds on HRW claims in 2015 that the Saudi-led coalition used cluster rockets in at least seven attacks in Yemen’s northwestern Hajja governate, killing and wounding dozens of civilians.
At that time, HRW advocacy director Mary Wareham told VOA that Yemeni villagers were collecting unexploded cluster cannisters and turning them over to HRW researchers, who then visited target areas to collect their own evidence.
Neither the White House nor Saudi officials have publicly confirmed the Foreign Policy report, which said the suspension includes CBU-105 cluster bombs manufactured by the U.S.-based firm Textron Systems.
It said those bombs hit targets in at least four different locations in the war-torn country.
Iran-backed Houthi Shi’ite rebels seized Yemen’s capital, Sana’a in September 2014, and in March of last year launched an offensive to the south that sent President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi fleeing to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis responded by launching airstrikes in defense of Hadi’s government.
The United Nations says 6,500 people have been killed in the fighting, including more than 3,200 civilians.
The world body sponsored two rounds of peace talks last year – neither successful – with December negotiations crumbling amid fierce fighting.
A third round of talks is currently under way in Kuwait.