(Adds letter to French president)
By Louis Charbonneau
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," 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 a number of African and Western
nations supporting Polisario.
After sending the report to the council on Thursday, the
United Nations issued at least two revised versions of it over
the course of several hours. The latest version removes the term
"monitoring mechanism" and only refers to "monitoring."
Ahmed Boukhari, the Polisario's U.N. representative, said he
was disappointed Ban's report did not go further, adding that
Rabat and Paris were putting pressure on the world body.
"Morocco with the help of France are placing the U.N. in a
very uncomfortable situation," he said in an email.
French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud rejected the allegation,
saying in a statement to Reuters, "France formally denies any
interference with the U.N. Secretariat."
Diplomats at the Moroccan mission did not immediately
respond to a request for comment.
OIL AND GAS POTENTIAL
Former U.N. special envoy to Western Sahara Peter van Walsum
and the former deputy chief of MINURSO Frank Ruddy wrote an open
letter to French President Francois Hollande on Thursday urging
to him to "make a strong call for human rights monitoring to be
included in the mandate" of the U.N. mission in Western Sahara.
Western Sahara, which is slightly bigger than Britain, has
under half a million people known as Sahrawis.
Some 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.
Ban recommends renewing the mandate of MINURSO for 12 more
months and 15 more U.N. observers to join the 225 already there.
The report touches on the sensitive issue of exploitation of
Western Sahara's 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, Total and Kosmos have all pledged to abide by
international standards and pledged that the local population
would benefit from discoveries.
Total did not have an immediate response to Ban's report
when contacted by Reuters.
Kosmos said in a statement: "Our activities are currently
focused solely on exploration. ... If we were to make a
commercially viable discovery, then we would only proceed with
development in accordance with international law and best
practices," it said.
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
and Richard Chang)