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14 Apr, 2017 13:34

Spanish firefighter refuses to ship arms to Saudi Arabia over Yemen ‘war crimes,’ may lose job

A Spanish firefighter could be suspended from work for up to four years after refusing to supervise a shipment of some 4,000 tons of munitions to Saudi Arabia. He walked out on the job because he believed the arms could be used to commit war crimes in Yemen.

The incident that may cost Inazio Robles his job happened in mid-March in the port city of Bilbao, the capital of Biscay, a province in the autonomous Basque Country in northern Spain. He was part of a firefighter crew supervising the shipment of 26 containers of hazardous cargo, El Mundo reported.

The containers were marked as a shipment of military munitions, and on asking about the cargo’s destination, Robles learned that it was bound for Saudi Arabia.

The firefighter said his conscience would not allow him to help with the delivery, as he knew that the Arab kingdom was involved in a military campaign in Yemen and was engaged in what many international human rights groups call war crimes there.

“Explosives are often being shipped through Bilbao port, usually pyrotechnics or armaments. But it was the first time I was taking part in delivering weapons to a nation violating human rights,” he told RT.

Robles said he walked away from his post and explained to his manager why he couldn’t be part of the operation. It was not until Friday last week that he learned that a disciplinary investigation against him was underway and that he could lose his job, reported Publico.

The provincial council of Biscay, the firefighter’s employer, may decide to suspend him for two to four years, which is a major concern for the 41-year-old father of two living in a city with an unemployment rate of 26 percent.

“I am naturally worried for my job and my family. What I did that day was only delay the shipment. I didn’t even manage to cancel it. This is hardly serious enough to suspend a man for four years,” he said.

Robles said that he stands by his decision despite the potential consequences, and added that his move had attracted much support.

“My co-workers initially didn’t understand why I did it, but I explained it to them and they supported me. My family is fully supporting me and some organizations and political parties expressed support. I think everyone is for me now,” he told RT.

Spain is Saudi Arabia’s fourth-biggest arms supplier. Last year Madrid lifted arms export restrictions to sell €40 million ($42 million) worth of artillery shells to the Gulf state. In 2015, Riyadh spent €546 million on Spanish military hardware, and this year Spain hopes to sell several Guaiquerí-class corvettes to Saudi Arabia for over €2 billion.

Arms deals with Saudi Arabia are a cause of concern for rights groups. Footage of Spanish military equipment, including grenade launchers and armored vehicles, was earlier published by opponents of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, allegedly taken from pro-Riyadh forces involved in the conflict.