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Saudi forces ‘permitted to kill’ for new eco-city

09-05-2024

RIYADH: Saudi authorities have permitted the use of lethal force to clear land for a futuristic desert city being built by dozens of Western companies, an ex-intelligence officer has told media.

Col Rabih Alenezi says he was ordered to evict villagers from a tribe in the Gulf state to make way for The Line, part of the Neom eco-project.

One of them was subsequently shot and killed for protesting against eviction.

The Saudi government and Neom management refused to comment.

Neom, Saudi Arabia’s $500bn (£399bn) eco-region, is part of its Saudi Vision 2030 strategy which aims to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from oil.

Its flagship project, The Line, has been pitched as a car-free city, just 200m (656ft) wide and 170km (106 miles) long though only 2.4km of the project is reportedly expected to be completed by 2030.

Dozens of global companies, several of them British, are involved in Neom’s construction.

The area where Neom is being built has been described as the perfect “blank canvas” by Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman but more than 6,000 people have been moved for the project according to his government and UK-based human rights group ALQST estimates the figure to be higher.

The media has analyzed satellite images of three of the villages demolished al-Khuraybah, Sharma and Gayal. Homes, schools, and hospitals have been wiped off the map.

Col Alenezi, who went into exile in the UK last year, says the clearance order he was asked to enact was for al-Khuraybah, 4.5km south of The Line. The villages were mostly populated by the Huwaitat tribe, who have inhabited the Tabuk region in the country’s north-west for generations.

He said the April 2020 order stated the Huwaitat was made up of “many rebels” and “whoever continues to resist [eviction] should be killed, so it licensed the use of lethal force against whoever stayed in their home”.

He dodged the mission on invented medical grounds, he told media but it nevertheless went ahead.

Abdul Rahim al-Huwaiti refused to allow a land registry committee to value his property, and was shot dead by Saudi authorities a day later, during the clearance mission. He had previously posted multiple videos on social media protesting against the evictions.

A statement issued by Saudi state security at the time alleged al-Huwaiti had opened fire on security forces and they had been forced to retaliate. Human rights organizations and the UN have said he was killed simply for resisting eviction.

The media was not able to independently verify Col Alenezi’s comments about lethal force but a source familiar with the workings of the Saudi intelligence directorate told us the colonel’s testimony regarding both how the clearance order was communicated and what it said was in line with what they knew about such missions more generally. They also said the colonel’s level of seniority would have been appropriate to lead the assignment.

At least 47 other villagers were detained after resisting evictions, many of whom were prosecuted on terror-related charges, according to the UN and ALQST. Of those, 40 remain in detention, five of whom are on death row, ALQST says.

Several were arrested for simply publicly mourning al-Huwaiti’s death on social media, the group said.

Saudi authorities say those required to move for The Line have been offered compensation but the figures paid out have been much lower than the amount promised, according to AlQst. (Int’l News Desk)

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