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U.N. worried about human rights in Western Sahara

23/04/2010 - 23:58

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the head of Western Sahara's independence movement Polisario on Friday he was worried about alleged violations of human rights in the resource-rich territory.

After a meeting with Mohamed Abdelaziz, Secretary-General of the Polisario Front, the U.N. press office said in a statement that Ban had expressed his commitment to finding a solution to the 35-year-old conflict "that provides for the self determination for the people of Western Sahara."

"The Secretary-General stated that he remains very concerned about alleged violations of human rights," the statement said. "(Ban) said that his personal envoy, Christopher Ross, and the (U.N.) Secretariat will continue to work to promote the human rights of Sahwaris."

Earlier this month the Polisario sent Ban a letter complaining about his latest report on Western Sahara to the U.N. Security Council, accusing him of inadequately addressing their concerns about human rights abuses by Morocco.

The conflict centres on a disputed territory slightly bigger than Britain with fewer than half a million people known as Sahrawis. The area is rich in phosphates -- used in making fertilizers -- and, potentially, offshore oil and gas.

Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara in 1975 and is now offering it autonomy. But the Polisario Front, which fought a guerrilla war until 1991, demands a referendum with independence as one option.

Western Sahara is littered with landmines and the remnants of unexploded ordnance from the war.

Morocco and Polisario, which is backed by Algeria, put forward their latest proposals three years ago but formal negotiations broke down in acrimony after less than a year.

The two sides failed to make any progress in informal talks in Austria in August 2009 and in New York state in February 2010. Ban said in his report, published earlier this month, that Morocco-Polisario talks remained deadlocked.

Ban recommended to the U.N. Security Council that the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara stay in place for another year, through April 30, 2011. The 233-strong mission includes military observers, troops and police.

(Editing by Todd Eastham)


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