No rights role yet for UN mission in W. Sahara

Thu Apr 28, 2011 8:33am GMT

By Patrick Worsnip

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council extended the stay of peacekeepers in Western Sahara on Wednesday but gave them no human rights role despite pressure from backers of self-determination for the disputed territory.

Sahara's Polisario Front independence movement wants the U.N. ceasefire monitors to report on what it says are rights abuses by Morocco, which annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975. Morocco denies the charge and opposes the move.

Western diplomats said a resolution passed on Wednesday to renew the mandate of the 230-strong U.N. mission MINURSO for another 12 months had beefed up rights language used in past years and was the most that could be hoped for at this stage.

The annexation of Western Sahara, which is about the size of Britain and has phosphates, fisheries and, potentially, oil and gas, sparked an armed conflict with the Polisario.

A U.N.-brokered ceasefire was reached in 1991 on the basis that a referendum would be held to decide the fate of the territory, but it never took place.

With deadlock in 4-year-old talks between Morocco and Polisario on the political future of Sahara, the focus has shifted to human rights in the territory, where clashes erupted last November when Moroccan forces broke up a protest camp.

The council's resolution calls on both sides to respect human rights and welcomes Morocco's decision to set up a national council on human rights and grant access to the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council.

Previous resolutions had made only a vague reference to the "human dimension" of the conflict.   Continued...

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