/ 24 April 2010

UN concerned about alleged abuses in Western Saharah

UN chief Ban Ki-moon met with Polisario Front head Mohamed Abdelaziz on Friday and expressed renewed concern about alleged human rights violations in the disputed Western Sahara.

Ban also pledged the United Nations would continue “an active and balanced” role in the search for a settlement of the 35-year-old dispute between the Polisario independence movement and Morocco, which annexed the territory in 1975, a UN statement said.

The secretary general “remains very concerned about alleged violations of human rights” and said his personal envoy to the territory, Christopher Ross, “will continue to work to promote the human rights of Sahrawis”, according to the statement.

With each side accusing the other of rights violations, the UN chief has repeatedly urged them to engage in constructive dialogue with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Family visit programme
He has also voiced concern over the plight of Sahrawi refugees and appealed to both sides to live up to their agreement to expand a family visit programme and speed up their consultations with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on its implementation.

Ban lauded the Algerian-backed Polisario for cooperating with the UNHCR to grant family visits by road and said he looked forward to the resumption of family visits by air.

The mandate of the UN mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which was first established in April 1991, expires at the end of this month. The UN Security Council is expected to renew it for another year.

In a recent report to the council, Ban noted that two informal sessions by the parties, in Austria last August and in suburban New York in February this year, failed to produce a breakthrough that would pave the way for a fifth round of formal talks.

At the end of the February session, Ross said neither side accepted the other’s proposal as the sole basis of future talks. But he subsequently told the Security Council that the parties had reiterated their commitment to continue negotiations.

Four previous rounds held in the New York suburb of Manhasset since June 2007 have failed to resolve the dispute over the phosphate-rich former Spanish colony.

Rabat has pledged to grant Western Sahara widespread autonomy but rules out independence.

The Polisario Front wants a referendum on self-determination, with independence as one of the options. – AFP