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After NYT Places Western Sahara Fighters in Mali, POLISARIO Writes to UN

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 24 -- While the UN helps promote and plan military action to "re-conquer" northern Mali, reporting from there has touched on another conflict long languishing on the UN's agenda: Western Sahara.

Today's New York Times reports that "In Timbuktu, Cissé Agaly, a former hotel manager, said 37 new fighters had arrived over the weekend. 'We saw them walking in the market,' he said, adding that they appeared to be from Western Sahara. Similarly, a municipal councilor in Gao, Abderahmane Oumarou Maïga, said about 60 new fighters had arrived in the town, also from Western Sahara and the border regions of Algeria."

  The fewer than 100 fighters the Times links to Western Sahara -- 37 "appeared to be from" there, 60 are asserted to be "from Western Sahara and the border regions of Algeria," with the breakdown unclear -- have given rise to a letter to four UN officials from the representative in New York of the Frente Polisario, Ahmed Boukhari.

   Inner City Press has obtained the communication and publishes it below.

  Writing to UN Under Secretaries General Jeffrey Feltman of the US and Herve Ladsous of France, as well as envoy Christopher Ross, Boukhari states:

"Some press reports are trying to implicate 'western Sahara' in the mess taking place in Mali. We see in this a new attempt by Morocco 'local friends' there to create confusion for political motivations and gain. No credible country or person in the world could take this as a serious information. Some media's including the NY Times today have taken this fake information without assessing its credibility. I think that there is a clear objective here to harm Western Sahara people and in the process the international credibility of Polisario whose position is very known on this matter. I am sure that UN will be able to separate what is right and what is wrong regarding information and news coming from that region."

  This confidence that the UN distinguishes between right and wrong information, from Africa or anywhere else, might be misplaced.

  Currently the UN Sanctions Committee on Cote d'Ivoire is alleging Gbagbo supporters are trying to link with groups in Mali; the reporting of UN coordinator Steve Hege on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda has been challenged, including based on his 2009 writings dismissive of the threat posed by the FDLR militia, which once Inner City Press linked to them were taken off the Internet.

  Furthermore, questions have arisen about Herve Ladsous, formerly France's Permanent Representative to the UN including during the Rwanda genocide, now heading UN Peacekeeping and so its mission in Western Sahara.  Ladsous refuses to answer any Press questions, saying on October 22, "Mister I told you already that I would answer your questions when you stop making insulting insinuations about me." Video here, at Minute 26:22.

  But it is not an insinuation to note France's position on Western Sahara and no human rights component in MINURSO, to note that Ladsous was the Deputy Permanent Representative of France, and to expect him to answer questions for example about his views on the peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara.

  Just for comparison, the above-addressed Feltman has answered questions about possible conflicts of interest due to his prior service in the US State Department.

  So what is different about Herve Ladsous? As some now surmise, could his thin-skinned refusal to answer Press questions, and characterization of questions as "insulting insinuations," be indicative of actual conflicts of interest of the type Feltman took questions on and addressed, in their fashion? And might these play out not only in Western Sahara but in Mali? Watch this site.

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