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

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More