LONDON — Saudi troops sent into Bahrain to help quash protests received training from Britain, The Observer said Sunday, citing government documents.
The Saudi Arabian National Guard was given weapons and public order training by a British military mission, according to documents obtained by the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act.
A Saudi-led Gulf force, including United Arab Emirates police, entered Bahrain in mid-March to help deal with pro-democracy protesters in the Shiite-majority Arab state ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy.
The move freed up Bahraini security forces to take on the protest movement.
Up to 20 training teams are sent to Saudi Arabia per year, The Observer said, with Riyadh footing the bill.
British personnel regularly run courses for the elite national guard in “weapons, fieldcraft and general military skills training, as well as incident handling, bomb disposal, search, public order and sniper training”, said the documents.
Human rights campaigners claimed Britain had therefore helped to suppress the uprising in Bahrain, amid criticism that London has not taken as tough a line with the rulers of Bahrain and Syria as it had with Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi.
Junior defence minister Nick Harvey told parliament last week that some members of the Saudi force deployed in Bahrain may have undergone some British training.
The Ministry of Defence stressed that British involvement in training foreign forces was intended to engender a culture of respect for human rights.
“The UK provides world-class defence training and education to many countries, including in the Gulf, creating lasting ties between our armed forces and enhancing their ability to work together towards regional security and stability,” a spokesman said.
“The Gulf states are key partners in the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons as well as being an emerging source of economic and political influence.
“By providing training for countries to the same high standards used by UK armed forces we help to save lives and raise awareness of human rights.”
But Nicholas Gilby of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade said: “Britain’s important role in training the Saudi Arabian National Guard in internal security over many years has enabled them to develop tactics to help suppress the popular uprising in Bahrain.”