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UN: Western Sahara mission 'undermined'

17 April 2012, 21:25

New York - The United Nations stepped up complaints about Morocco's tactics in Western Sahara as the UN Security Council on Tuesday held its annual talks on efforts to end deadlock over the territory's future.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon has told the Security Council that the UN mission's communications from the Moroccan-controlled territory with UN headquarters have been "compromised".

He said various "factors have undermined the mission's ability to monitor and report consistently on the situation" in Western Sahara and has asked for the mission to be beefed up.

With years of UN-brokered talks between Morocco and Polisario Front rebels showing no sign of a breakthrough, the Security Council faces growing pressure to let the mission investigate human rights violations.

Diplomats said the UN report was one of the most critical in many years on events in Western Sahara, which Morocco started to annex in 1975 after Spain withdrew. The Polisario started a guerilla war and the UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991.

"Allegations of spying on the headquarters of the MINURSO mission particularly show the UN's frustration," said one Security Council diplomat. MINURSO is the official title of the UN mission.

Ban said in his report to the council that there have been "indications that the confidentiality of the communications between MINURSO headquarters and New York has, at least on one occasion, been compromised."

The UN compound is a former hotel in Laayoune, the main city which is under Moroccan control. The report did not say who had "compromised" UN communications, however.

The UN compound is surrounded by 21 Moroccan flags and the UN is also upset that Morocco forces UN cars to display Moroccan diplomatic plates. Everywhere else in the world UN vehicles use a neutral UN registration. When the cars cross into areas controlled by the Polisario they have to change to UN plates.

Contact controlled

Ban's report said the flags and the registration plates "create an appearance that raises doubts about the neutrality of the mission".

"In parallel, the Moroccan police presence outside the compound discourages visitors from approaching MINURSO in an independent capacity."

Access to "external contacts is controlled and monitored", Ban's report said.

The UN leader said "MINURSO is unable to exercise fully its peacekeeping monitoring, observation and reporting functions, or to avail of the authority to reverse the erosion of its mandate implementation capabilities on its own".

"It is a hard-hitting report," said one Western diplomat.

In times of cutbacks in the UN system Ban has asked for an extra 15 military observers to be added to the mission of 228 "to bolster its monitoring capacities".

He has also asked again for the mission to have a greater powers to look into allegations of human rights abuses.

"I seek the assistance of the Security Council in reasserting the mandated role of the MINURSO, upholding peacekeeping standards and United Nations neutrality," Ban said in his report.

The 15-nation Security Council is working on a resolution to extend the mandate of the mission in Western Sahara which has to be passed this month.

Morocco's UN mission made no immediate comment on the UN report.



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