April 18, 2013 / 12:56 PM / in 6 years

France won't block U.S. proposal on Western Sahara - envoys

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - France, Morocco’s traditional protector on the U.N. Security Council, is unlikely to use its veto to block a U.S. proposal to have U.N. peacekeepers monitor human rights in the disputed territory of Western Sahara, envoys said.

United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon speaks after a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House, April 11, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

The U.S. proposal was contained in a draft U.N. Security Council resolution Washington circulated to the so-called Group of Friends on Western Sahara, which includes the United States, France, Spain, Britain and Russia, U.N. diplomats said this week on condition of anonymity.

“We don’t expect France will block,” a diplomat from one of the Group of Friends countries said on condition of anonymity on Wednesday. The diplomat was confirming a French media report. Another U.N. diplomat on Thursday confirmed the remarks.

The draft resolution is intended to extend the mandate of the U.N. mission in Western Sahara for another year. It was to be put to a vote in the Security Council this month.

The idea of making U.N. human rights monitoring one of the tasks of the U.N. peacekeeping mission for Western Sahara, known as MINURSO, is something Morocco opposes but rights groups and the Polisario Front independence movement have long advocated.

France, Rabat’s traditional protector on the 15-nation Security Council, has made clear in the past that it would use its veto to block on such proposals. But that is no longer the case, diplomats said.

The U.S. suggestion for a human rights monitoring component of MINURSO came after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council he advocated “sustained” independent human rights monitoring for the territory.

Morocco was annoyed by the U.S. proposal and cancelled planned joint U.S.-Moroccan military exercises in response.

In U.N.-mediated talks, Rabat has tried to convince Polisario, which represents the Sahrawi people, to accept its plan for Western Sahara to be an autonomous part of Morocco.

Polisario instead proposes a referendum among ethnic Sahrawis that includes an option of independence, but there is no agreement between Morocco and Polisario on who should participate in any referendum.

No state recognizes Morocco’s rule over Western Sahara but the Security Council is divided. Some non-aligned states back Polisario but France has supported Rabat.

Polisario accuses Morocco of routine human rights violations in Western Sahara and has called for MINURSO to have the authority to conduct independent human rights monitoring. That is something Polisario has called for in previous years, but Morocco, backed by France, has rejected the idea.

In a report, Ban argued in favour of some form of independent rights monitoring but offered no details on how it would be carried out in the resource-rich territory.

“Given ongoing reports of human rights violations, the need for independent, impartial, comprehensive and sustained monitoring of the human rights situations in both Western Sahara and the (refugee) camps becomes ever more pressing,” Ban said.

Editing by Doina Chiacu

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