'No rights monitoring in Western Sahara'
24 April 2013, 16:16
New York - Opposition from France and Morocco forced the
United States to abandon a proposal to monitor human rights in the disputed
territory of Western Sahara, UN diplomats said on Tuesday.
The US decision clears the way for the UN Security Council
to approve a UN resolution that would extend the mandate of the UN peacekeeping
force in the mineral-rich territory for another year, the diplomats said,
speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations were private.
Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1976, sparking
a decades-long battle for independence by Polisario Front rebels which ended
with a UN-brokered 1991 cease-fire. Morocco has proposed wide-ranging autonomy
for Western Sahara, but the Polisario Front insists on self-determination for
the local people through a referendum on the territory's future.
The Polisario Front has been lobbying for years, along with
human rights groups, for a UN human rights presence in Western Sahara.
In a report to the Security Council last month, the UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for "independent, impartial,
comprehensive and sustained monitoring of the human rights situations in both
Western Sahara and the camps" for Saharan refugees because of continuing
reports of rights violations.
The United States, following up on the report, proposed
having the UN monitor human rights in the resolution it drafted to extend the
mandate of UN peacekeepers.
Angered at the proposal, Morocco canceled its annual
military exercises with the United States on April 16.
The 13th annual "African Lion" exercise —
involving 1 400 US servicemen and 900 Moroccan troops, as well as foreign
observers from countries like France and Germany — had been set to start on
April 17 with many personnel already in place.
Moroccan government spokesman Mustapha Khalfi, who is also
the minister of communication, announced the cancellation, calling the US
proposal "an attack on the national sovereignty of Morocco" that
would have "negative consequences on the stability of the whole region".
Khalfi said Morocco — which is serving a two-year stint on
the Security Council — counted on "the wisdom" of other council
members to block human rights monitoring.
Diplomats said that when the US presented its draft
resolution to the Friends of Western Sahara group, which includes Britain,
France, Germany, Russia, Spain and Switzerland, there were strong objections
from France, which has close ties to Morocco and is a veto-wielding permanent
member of the Security Council.
So the US watered down the resolution to call for greater
progress on human rights — but no monitoring, the diplomats said.
The friends group approved the revised draft which was sent
to all 15 members of the Security Council Tuesday, with the expectation that it
will be approved on Thursday, the diplomats said.