Rights observers visit W. Sahara amid UN envoy row

LAAYOUNE, Western Sahara- Human rights observers held meetings with tribal leaders, peacekeepers and Moroccan officials on Monday as they wrapped up a visit to the Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara.
Their visit comes amid a row between the United Nations and Rabat, which has demanded the replacement of new UN peace envoy Christopher Ross, whom it accuses of "bias" in efforts to resolve the status of the territory.

Rights observers visit W. Sahara amid UN envoy row
Morocco annexed the Western Sahara in 1975 in a move never recognised by the international community.
The rebel Polisario Front, which has been campaigning for independence for the territory since before the annexation, controls a small part the desert interior and has bases in neighbouring Algeria.
The delegation, led by Kerry Kennedy, of the Robert F Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights, and Mary Lawlor, director of rights group Front Line Defenders, held morning meetings with tribal leaders and the region's governor, an AFP reporter said.
In the afternoon, the group visited the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping mission.
On Sunday, the delegation held a closed meeting at their hotel with Sahrawi pro-independence groups, who repeated their demands to see the mandate of the peacekeeping mission extended to cover human rights. It also met pro-Moroccan groups.
After visiting the territory, the rights observers are to travel to Polisario-controlled refugee camps around Tindouf over the border in southwestern Algeria.
The trip, which began last week, aims "to assess the human rights situation ... in both Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara and in the Sahrawi refugee camps," Front Line Defenders said in a statement.
The delegation will publish a report at the end of their trip.
Rabat announced in May that it no longer had confidence in Ross, whom it accused of being "unbalanced and biased" in attempts to mediate a solution to one of Africa's longest-running conflicts.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon told Morocco's King Mohammed VI during a phone call on Saturday that he would not give in to demands to change his peace envoy, according to diplomats.
The Kennedy Centre, which published a report during a visit last year, has also been criticised in Morocco during its current trip.
Communications Minister Mustapha El Khalfi said in comments carried by the official MAP news agency that he hoped the Centre would develop an "objective vision" on this occasion.

Tuesday, August 28th 2012

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