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

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs