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On W. Sahara, Morocco Got Ban Assurances, Polisario Calls MINURSO Secret

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, November 28 -- When two sides to a controversy in the UN Security Council come out to talk to the press at the stakeout, is it better to go first or second?

  Among Sudan and South Sudan it is often a race who can get there first, or to know if the other is going to speak. But the power dynamic between Morocco and the Polisario Front of Western Sahara is quite different.

   Wednesday after UN envoy Christopher Ross briefed the Council and then took a few question at the stakeout, Ahmed Boukhari of Polisario approached the microphone.

   Then he paused and gestured to Morocco's Permanent Representative Loulichki, who was standing up the steps from the stakeout, if Loulichki wanted to go first.

  Loulichki waved him off, seeming to say, I don't need to talk there. Morocco is a member of the Security Council now, and for the next 13 months.

  Boukhari started up. Inner City Press asked him about reported restrictions on the UN's MINURSO peacekeeping mission and why the Department of Peacekeeping Operations hasn't in the past year made these restrictions more public.

  Among other responses, Boukhari talked about foreign journalists being thrown out by Morocco. Inner City Press asked him about the European Union's fisheries agreement with Morocco, which would purport to cover waters off Morocco in violation, some experts say, of international law.

  Boukhari said the EU should closely consider the law. When he finished, despite some expectation he would be the last speaker, Loulickhi came to the microphone and said he was ready for any question.

  Inner City Press asked him about Morocco's questioning of Ross as envoy, and about the expulsion of foreign journalists. On the former, Loulichki said that the King of Morocco received assurances from Ban Ki-moon, in their phone conversation, that this would not be a continuation of the same mediation process.

  Loulichki will become the president of the UN Security Council for the month of December, in just a few days.

  On the latter, Loulichki said that some come in as tourists, and then begin activities that have nothing to do with reporting. He said one has to apply, as a journalist, and that Morocco is open to the "dialectics" of human rights, is open to criticism.

  In connection with the last few UN reports on MINURSO and Western Sahara, Inner City Press has been told in detail by UN sources of lobbying by Morocco, and France, to change the report before it is released.

   Is this just part of the dialectic?

  When Boukhari was at the microphone, he said that MINURSO is a "secret operation" without proper access to the population, to the international community or to the press. He said silence on this undermines the credibility of the peacekeeping mission. It is noted that the head of UN Peacekeeping is Herve Ladsous, the fourth Frenchman in a row to hold the position.

Since May, Ladsous has refused to answer any Inner City Press question, most recently summoning other less critical correspondents to follow him into the hallway beside the stakeout to give "information" about the Congo, on which he came to brief the Council. He also came Wednesday morning for Sudan, but did NOT come to the Council on Western Sahara and MINURSO.

   Some in DPKO who work for Ladsous say it is unfair to criticize or even question Ladsous about Western Sahara, his previous role working for his native France (including as Deputy Permanent Representative of France at the UN during the Rwanda genocide in 1994).

    But since Ladsous won't answer anything on this, the questions only mount, and with them the criticism. But we will keep asking. Watch this site.

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