UAE signs $1.3bn in deals as arms fair opens amid criticism

Abu Dhabi criticised for displaying weapons used by Emirati-aligned armed groups in Yemen war.

    The UAE largely has handled ground operations in Yemen while the Saudis have bombed from the air [File: Karim Sahib/AFP]
    The UAE largely has handled ground operations in Yemen while the Saudis have bombed from the air [File: Karim Sahib/AFP]

    The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has signed weapons deals worth $1.3bn with local and international companies at the opening day of an arms fair in Abu Dhabi.

    The Gulf nation, which alongside Saudi Arabia has been mired in the devastating war in Yemen for nearly four years, announced 33 deals on Sunday, including a $355m deal with Raytheon to provide surface-to-air Patriot missiles.

    Yemen's Houthi rebels have repeatedly fired ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia, and have also claimed attacks on the UAE.

    In November 2017, the rebels said they fired a missile towards a nuclear plant in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, while in August, they claimed to have struck Dubai airport with an armed drone.

    Both charges were denied by the UAE.

    Other deals at the International Defense Exhibition in Abu Dhabi (IDEX) saw Australian firm EOS Defence awarded with a $316m contract to provide ground and naval systems, while contracts awarded to UAE firms amounted to around $300m.

    One manufacturer at IDEX displayed a model of a machine gun for sale that is in the hands of Emirati-backed groups in Yemen. Armoured personnel carriers and tanks used in the war could also be seen at the show.

    Emirati officials avoided discussing Yemen, however US officials linked arms smuggling there to Iran.

    "My assumption is there are still things going into Yemen that I need to stop," James Malloy, the head of the US Navy's 5th Fleet command that oversees the region told the Associated Press news agency.

    "It is destabilising. It delays peace there. It exacerbates the disastrous humanitarian crisis that we're facing in Yemen and delays humanitarian efforts coming in," Malloy said.

    "We see the world trying to end this thing and one group doing nothing to end it - probably the opposite."

    Arms sales 'beggar belief'

    The UAE entered Yemen's war in March 2015 alongside Saudi Arabia and a host of other Arab countries to restore Yemen's internationally recognised government.

    The countries claimed they wanted to restore President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government after a civil war broke out between his supporters and those loyal to the Houthis.

    Since then, Saudi air raids have hit markets and hospitals, killing thousands, while the UAE has largely handled ground operations in the conflict. 

    Rights group Amnesty International criticised the arms fair after Belgium's FN Herstal 5.56mm Minimi machine gun was being advertised for sale. The weapon has been seen in the hands of Emirati-aligned armed groups.

    "The ongoing carnage against civilians in Yemen - including at the hands of the Saudi Arabia and UAE-led coalition and the militias it backs - should give serious pause to all states supplying arms," Patrick Wilcken, Arms Control and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International said in a statement.

    "It beggars belief that they would continue to market and sell billions of dollars' worth of advanced weaponry to armed forces that are committing war crimes and exacerbating the world's worst humanitarian crisis."

    The war in Yemen has pushed the Arab world's poorest country to the brink of famine and has killed an estimated 60,000 people.

    According to the charity Save the Children, an estimated 85,000 children may have starved to death over the past four years of war.

    Members of the UAE Armed Forces demonstrate skills during the opening of the International Defence Exhibition & Conference (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi [Christopher Pike/Reuters]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies