U.N. renews Western Sahara mission, but without rights monitors

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 29, 2014 11:08 AM

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council renewed a U.N. peacekeeping mission in the disputed North African territory of Western Sahara for another year on Tuesday, and urged all sides to respect human rights, but it did not call for the United Nations to monitor abuses as rights groups advocate.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, like the advocacy groups, has called for the U.N. mission, known as MINURSO, to monitor and report on human rights abuses in the territory, but Morocco, backed by France, vehemently rejects the idea.

Morocco took control of most of the territory in 1975 when colonial power Spain withdrew, prompting the Polisario Front independence movement to wage a guerrilla war that lasted until 1991, when the U.N. brokered a cease-fire and sent in the MINURSO peacekeepers.

Polisario now runs refugee camps at Tindouf in Algeria.

Tuesday's unanimously adopted resolution had the U.N. Security Council "stressing the importance of improving the human rights situation in Western Sahara and the Tindouf camps, and encouraging the parties to work with the international community to develop and implement independent and credible measures to ensure full respect for human rights."

Earlier this month, Ban renewed his appeals for sustained human rights monitoring in Western Sahara and warned against unfair exploitation of the region's natural resources. The U.S.-drafted resolution, which council diplomats said was painstakingly negotiated with Morocco, did not heed Ban's appeal.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group, also sent a letter to the Security Council, urging the 15-nation body to "extend (MINURSO's) mandate to incorporate human rights monitoring in Western Sahara and in the Polisario Front-run refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria.

The 1991 ceasefire settlement was brokered by the United Nations with the understanding that a referendum would be held on the territory's fate.

But the referendum, which MINURSO was deployed to help organize, never took place, and attempts to reach a lasting political deal have foundered.

Morocco has resisted the idea of U.N. peacekeepers reporting on rights abuses in Western Sahara, and Paris has long supported Rabat's position due to historical and business relations.

French officials insist that they would have no problem with U.N. rights monitoring but insisted that Morocco would demand an immediate withdrawal of MINURSO if it was ever given that role.

The renewal of the mandate of the peacekeeping mission marks an annual battle in the Security Council between France, which defends Morocco's position, and a number of African nations and the Polisario Front. Algeria is a strong supporter of the Polisario.

Rabat wants Western Sahara to be an autonomous part of Morocco. Polisario instead wants to hold the long-promised referendum among ethnic Sahrawis that would include the option of independence. There is no agreement between Morocco and Polisario on who should participate in any referendum.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; editing by Peter Galloway)