November 15, 2010 / 5:56 PM / 7 years ago

Polisario demands UN council probe of Sahara clash

* Independence group threatens to reconsider peace talks

* Polisario says U.N. failed to protect Sahara’s people

By Patrick Worsnip

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Western Sahara’s independence movement on Monday demanded a U.N. probe of recent clashes in the territory and threatened to reconsider its role in peace talks with Morocco unless they brought quick results.

The demands came in a letter from the Polisario Front’s U.N. representative to the Security Council after Moroccan security forces last week broke up a protest camp on the edge of Laayoune, main city in the Moroccan-controlled territory.

The Nov. 8 clashes occurred on the day that Morocco and Polisario held their latest round of U.N.-mediated talks near New York on the future of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony in northwest Africa annexed by Morocco in 1975.

Last week, Polisario said 11 civilians had died, while Morocco said eight of its security forces were killed. Monday’s letter from Polisario representative Ahmed Boukhari said more than 36 Sahrawis -- as the desert territory’s inhabitants are known -- died and 163 were detained.

The letter addressed to British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, this month’s Security Council president, said he should lead a fact-finding council mission to Western Sahara “to establish an authoritative account of last week’s events.”

The mission should determine whether the breaking-up of the camp, which had been set up to demand jobs and better services, breached a 1991 U.N.-brokered ceasefire between Morocco and Polisario, Boukhari said.

The council should also call on Morocco to provide U.N. peacekeepers in Sahara with unimpeded access and meet a longstanding Polisario demand by giving the 215-member U.N. observer mission a human rights monitoring role, he said.

The Security Council will discuss the situation in Western Sahara and the peace process on Tuesday.

The letter also voiced frustration with the slow-moving peace talks. Seven rounds have been held since 2007 without reaching a compromise between Rabat’s offer of self-rule for Western Sahara within Morocco and Polisario’s call for a referendum with full independence as an option.

“At present, the U.N. process is merely a camouflage for an endless occupation,” Boukhari said. “The situation is an international disgrace.”

Although U.N. mediator Christopher Ross said last week Morocco and Polisario had agreed on two more meetings -- next month and early next year -- the Polisario official said, “we have reached a fork in the road.”

The letter called on the Security Council to set a deadline for resolving the dispute, and said if there was no progress within a short period, Polisario “will be forced to reconsider its position vis-a-vis the entire process.”

If the United Nations could not protect Sahrawis, “we will be obliged to do so ourselves,” Boukhari said in an apparent hint that Polisario could resume armed struggle. The group has made a similar threat before, without following through. (Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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