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Rights groups slam Australia for joint drill with Saudi Arabia

Rights groups have voiced outrage over Australia’s participation in a training naval drill with Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a war and a crippling blockade on Yemen.

The Australian and Saudi navies drilled in the Red Sea, not far from Yemen, on August 14.

“I think it is disturbing to hear that the ADF (Australian Defense Force) is training a navy that is involved in this blockade [against Yemen],” said Elaine Pearson, the director of New York-based Human Rights Watch’s branch in Australia.

“We know that the Saudi-led coalition has been arbitrarily delaying and diverting ships carrying lifesaving goods to Yemen, and humanitarian assistance is clearly desperately needed right now,” she added, according to Australia’s ABC News network on Wednesday.

Rebecca Barber, the humanitarian policy advisor in Melbourne for UK-based charity organization Oxfam, also voiced concern.

“Oxfam will be asking the Australian Government for more information. We are concerned by anything that could look like support to the implementation of the blockade,” Barber said. “The blockade is directly contravening a series of UN Security Council resolutions and Security Council presidential statements calling for full and unimpeded, unhindered humanitarian access.”

Tim Costello, with the rights group World Vision International, said Australia had to used its leverage by refraining from conducting joint drills with Saudi Arabia.

“Any connection, even in joint boarding party operations, taints us,” said Tim Costello, of World Vision Australia.

Leading a number of its vassal states, Saudi Arabia has been conducting military strikes on Yemen since March 2015 to restore a former pro-Riyadh regime.

More than 12,000 have died since the war began.

The Saudi-led coalition has also been enforcing a land, aerial, and naval blockade on Yemen. The siege has pushed around seven million people in the impoverished country to the brink of famine.

The executive director of the Australia Defense Association government organization, Neil James, also said there were questions as to why Canberra had opted to partake in the drill at a time when the Saudi navy was implementing the blockade.

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