UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, on a tour of North Africa, on March 5 visited the sprawling refugee camps at Tindouf in the Algerian desert, where nearly 200,000 Sahrawi Arabs displaced from Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara have for more then four decades been exiled. Ban called the Tindouf refugee camps "among the oldest in the world," and called on the parties involved in the Western Sahara conflict to end the "unacceptable" plight of the Sahrawi. Ban meet with refugees and their representatives at Smara Camp, and later with leaders of the Polisario Front, which seeks independence for Western Sahara, including the group's secretary general Mohamed Abdelaziz. Ban also visited the headquarters of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) in Laayoune, Western Sahara's capital. The UN-mandated referendum on the territory's status has been stalled for over 20 years, with Morocco and the Polisario Front unable to come to terms (Jurist, AFP, March 6)
But as Algeria champions the cause of Polisario and the Sahrawi, it is under growing pressure over its treatment of the Berber (Amazigh) people within its own territory—especially the restive Kabylia region in the northeast. As Ban arrived in Algiers, three leaders of the Kabyle diaspora in the US and Canada—Sadi Robin Melbouci, Mansour Bensahnoune Ulhadi and Rabah Arkam—sent an open letter urging him to address the plight of their people.
The letter read: "As you visit the territories of Algeria [which] is currently colonizing the country of Kabylia, we are seeking UN assistance to deliver this message to the Algerian authorities and remind them of the principal of self-determination…" Citing UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 of 1960, the letter asserts that "it is the legitimate right for the Kabyle people to state their self-determination to choose their own political status and be free of alien domination."
Citing a pattern of harassment and arbitrary arrests of Kabyle leaders, the letter asked Ban to embrace the demand "that Algeria shall relinquish its sovereignty and jurisdiction in respect to Kabylia" and "that the said sovereignty and jurisdiction shall on such relinquishment vest in the Kabyle Provisional Government (GPK)." (Tamrut, March 5) The GPK was founded in 2010 to press for the independence of Kabylia.