- President Mohamed Abdelaziz of the exiled Western Sahara government during a meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York today demanded concrete action from the UN peacekeepers (MINURSO) in the territory, occupied by Morocco. MINURSO staff had not assisted Sahrawi civilians during the clampdown of a recent riot. Mr Abdelaziz told Mr Annan the UN troops should start protecting civilians or get out of Western Sahara.
MINURSO was established as a UN peacekeeping mission in 1991 following a ceasefire between Morocco and the pro-independence movement Polisario. Its primary mandate was to organise a referendum amongst the Sahrawi people on independence in the former Spanish colony. Morocco has since that backed down on the agreement to organise a referendum, leaving MINURSO basically jobless for the last five years. The UN peacekeepers now mostly issue reports on minor ceasefire violations.
Polisario leader and President of the exiled Sahrawi government, Abdelaziz, is currently on an official visit at UN headquarters in New York, where he is meeting with Mr Annan, ambassadors of all UN Security Council members and African states. He is delivering the Sahrawis official opinions on the stalled peace process and MINURSO's future, which the Security Council debates regularly.
Mr Abdelaziz' message to the UN Secretary-General today was unusually clear. "We clearly told him that if the MINURSO can neither fulfil its mandate and supervise the organisation of a referendum nor protect the Sahrawi population's human rights, its existence in the territory is absolutely nonsense. It should rather withdraw," the Sahrawi leader told the press, resuming his meeting with Mr Annan.
President Abdelaziz specially referred to the riot against Moroccan presence in occupied Western Sahara, which has flared up from time to time since May last year. The rioters have been met by armed Moroccan police and troops, causing many injuries among civilians. Hundreds of Sahrawi human rights activists and protesters have been jailed for shorter or longer periods and there is proof that at least some of them have been heavily tortured during detention.
The riots were sparked off again in several Sahrawi towns last week, following the release of some human rights activists. According to reports from Sahrawi activists, only in the north-eastern town of Smara, "more than 130 persons were wounded or arrested." This is denied by Moroccan authorities, which spoke about only a handful of injured, including police officers.
According to Mr Abdelaziz, MINURSO was obliged to react to the "flagrant human rights violations committed by the Moroccan colonial forces" as part of their mandate. The violations were only possible due to "the lack of intervention from MINURSO regarding the protection of the Sahrawi population," he told the UN Secretary-General. "The forces of occupation commit all sorts of human rights violations while MINURSO is on the ground doing nothing to defend and protect the population," he complained.
The Sahrawi leader further complained about the "silence and lack of response from the UN's Commissioner for Human Rights to a demand presented October 2005 by Sahrawi authorities, asking for the dispatch of a delegation to the Western Sahara." According to Mr Abdelaziz, a UN human rights delegation had been denied entry to the territory by Morocco three times.
After his meeting with Mr Annan, the Sahrawi President is to meet ambassadors of the UN Security Council's member states, where he is believed to repeat his message. Moroccan authorities within short are to present their new plan of autonomy for Western Sahara to Mr Annan and the Council - a concept that has been rejected by Polisario. The UN Security Council is scheduled to discuss the Western Sahara issue on 10 April, when it also will decide whether to renew MINURSO's mandate as it usually does as a routine.
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