News / Africa

UN Warns of Risk of Mali War Spillover in Western Sahara

In this photo taken March 21, 2013, Malian soldiers stand around the debris left after a jihadist suicide bomber blew himself up at a Malian army checkpoint near the airport in Timbuktu, Mali.
In this photo taken March 21, 2013, Malian soldiers stand around the debris left after a jihadist suicide bomber blew himself up at a Malian army checkpoint near the airport in Timbuktu, Mali.
Reuters
The conflict in Mali threatens to spill over into the disputed territory of Western Sahara, with the possibility of infiltration by foreign militant groups, the U.N. chief warned in a report.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also called for "sustained" independent human rights monitoring for Western Sahara, something Morocco opposes but human rights groups and the Polisario Front independence movement have long advocated.

Morocco took control of most of Western Sahara in 1975 when colonial power Spain withdrew, prompting a guerrilla war for independence that lasted until 1991 when the United Nations brokered a ceasefire and sent in a peacekeeping mission.

"During meetings with MINURSO [the U.N. mission], Frente Polisario commanders have not ruled out terrorist infiltrations" from Mali by Islamic militants, Ban said in a report to the 15-nation Security Council obtained by Reuters.

"Possible armed infiltrations, gaps in regional security coordination and resource shortages for effective border controls expose military observers to risk," the report said.

France launched a military offensive in Mali in January against Islamist militants threatening the capital. That drove the insurgents out of the towns they had seized, but they have since hit back with suicide attacks and guerrilla-style raids.

Western powers are concerned that Mali's vast and lawless Saharan desert could become a launchpad for international militant attacks. Other European governments have ruled out sending combat troops but are backing a military training force.

"All governments consulted raised serious concern over the risk that the fighting in Mali could spill over into the neighboring countries and contribute to radicalizing the Western Saharan refugee camps," Ban's report said.

One government called the situation in Western Sahara a "ticking time bomb," Ban said.

Rabat has long tried to convince Polisario, which represents the Sahrawi people, to accept its plan for 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.

The referendum has never been held and attempts to reach a lasting deal have floundered.

Monitoring Sahara human rights

No state recognizes Morocco's rule over Western Sahara but the Security Council is divided. Some non-aligned states back Polisario but France and the United States, both veto-wielding council members, have continued to support Rabat.

Polisario accuses Morocco of routine human rights violations in Western Sahara and has called for MINURSO to have the authority to conduct independent human rights monitoring. That is something that Polisario has called for in previous years, but Morocco, backed by France, has rejected the idea.

In his report, Ban argued in favor of some form of independent rights monitoring but offered no details on how it would be carried out in the resource-rich territory.

"Given ongoing reports of human rights violations, the need for independent, impartial, comprehensive and sustained monitoring of the human rights situations in both Western Sahara and the [refugee] camps becomes ever more pressing," Ban said.

Morocco's U.N. mission did not have an immediate comment.

Polisario's U.N. representative, Ahmed Boukhari, welcomed Ban's recommendation, saying it should push the Security Council "to take the necessary measures toward the establishment of a permanent mechanism to monitor the situation of human rights."

Last year, Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based watchdog group, wrote to the council urging it to approve rights monitoring since Moroccan initiatives "fall far short of ensuring regular and impartial monitoring of the current human rights situation in Western Sahara and the refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria."

As in previous years, the council did not back a permanent rights monitoring mechanism last year.

While the Security Council has never formally assigned MINURSO the role of human rights monitoring, Morocco, a temporary council member, has come under increasing pressure from the European Union and United States on human rights.

Ban also recommended renewing the mandate for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara for another year until April 30, 2014, as well as adding 15 military observers and six U.N. police officers to the force.

Western Sahara, which is slightly bigger than Britain, has under half a million people. But it is rich in phosphates - used in fertilizer - and, potentially, offshore oil and gas.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid