| VIENNA, April 10
VIENNA, April 10 U.N. Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon on Thursday renewed his appeals for sustained human
rights monitoring in the disputed territory of northern Africa's
Western Sahara and warned against unfair exploitation of the
region's natural resources.
The comments were included in Ban's latest report on Western
Sahara to the 15-nation U.N. Security Council, an advance copy
of which was obtained by Reuters.
Morocco took control of most of the territory in 1975 when
colonial power Spain withdrew, prompting a guerrilla war for
independence that lasted until 1991 when the United Nations
brokered a cease-fire and sent in a peacekeeping mission known
Ban said he welcomed Morocco's willingness to allow special
investigators from the U.N. Human Rights Council to visit the
territory and the Polisario Front independence movement's
willingness to work with United Nations rights bodies.
"The end goal nevertheless remains a sustained, independent
and impartial human rights monitoring mechanism," Ban said.
While Ban did not say it directly, U.N. officials and
diplomats say that he would like the U.N. mission in Western
Sahara to take on monitoring human rights violations in the
territory, but Morocco, backed by France, has vigorously
resisted the idea.
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 African nations supporting
Western Sahara, which is slightly bigger than Britain, has
under half a million people known as Sahrawis.
African countries, Britain, the United States and other
Western nations have repeatedly called for U.N. peacekeepers to
be given the task of monitoring alleged human rights abuses.
Last year the United States, on Ban's recommendation,
proposed that MINURSO take on the job of human rights
monitoring. But Morocco was furious and Washington dropped the
idea. By way of a compromise, Rabat agreed to allow some U.N.
rights investigators to visit the territory.
Ban recommends renewing the mandate of MINURSO for another
year, while calling for adding 15 additional U.N. observers to
the 225 already there.
OIL AND GAS POTENTIAL
The report also touches on the sensitive issue of the
exploitation of Western Sahara's natural resources. It is rich
in phosphates - used in fertilizer - and, potentially, offshore
oil and gas.
"In light of increased interest in the natural resources of
Western Sahara, it is timely to call upon all relevant actors to
'recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants
of these territories are paramount'," Ban said, citing the
United Nations Charter.
French energy giant Total and U.S. oil explorer Kosmos have
joined in the hunt for oil off the coast of Western Sahara.
Morocco says the exploration work will comply with international
rules and the local population would benefit from discoveries.
Neither Total nor Kosmos had an immediate response when
contacted by Reuters. Ban's report does not name any specific
companies active in Western Sahara.
Rabat wants Western Sahara to be an autonomous part of
Morocco. Polisario instead proposes a referendum among ethnic
Sahrawis that includes an option of independence, but there is
no agreement between Morocco and Polisario on who should
participate in any referendum.
Attempts to reach a lasting deal through U.N.-mediated talks
have floundered. In the report, Ban renewed his call for a
revival of the Western Sahara talks aimed at securing a
political deal and some form of self-determination for the
(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)