Spain asks U.N. to assess security in Sahrawi camps

* Spain says asked U.N. to assess security in Sahrawi camps
* Move follows kidnapping of three European aid workers
* Camps shelter Western Sahara separatists (Adds quotes, background)

Tue Oct 25, 2011 2:51pm GMT

RABAT, Oct 25 (Reuters) – Spain has asked the United Nations to assess security in Sahrawi refugee camps in western Algeria, Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez said on Tuesday after two Spanish aid workers were kidnapped there over the weekend.

Speaking in Rabat after talks with Moroccan counterpart Taieb Fassi Fihri, Jimenez told reporters she hoped concerted regional action would help secure the release of the Spaniards and an Italian who were taken from a camp near Tindouf.

“We have asked the United Nations to send a mission to Algeria to assess the security situation in the camps of Tindouf,” said Jimenez, speaking through a translator.

Located in Algeria, Tindouf is the rear-base of the Polisario Front which seeks independence of the disputed Western Sahara.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975 and it has since become the subject of a dispute with the Polisario Front backed by Algeria, where many Sahrawis live in refugee camps.

The Spanish government held talks on Monday with non-governmental organizations active in Tindouf over the need for stronger security measures in the camps, Jimenez said.

“The NGOs want to carry on their work there (in Sahrawi camps) but we want better security measures in Tindouf,” she added.

Madrid still has no information about the identity or motivation of the armed kidnappers who — according to Sahrawi authorities — crossed from neighbouring Mali in four-wheel drive vehicles.

“The (Spanish) government is working with governments from the region to ensure their release. We don’t want to talk about the perpetrators of this act. We lack … official information,” Jimenez said.

Morocco had offered to assist Spain, which has long cooperated with Rabat on counter-terrorism issues, she added.

Fihri said Algeria bore some responsibility for the abduction but hinted that Al Qaeda may have orchestrated it.

“The state of Algeria … must ensure security on its territory. After all, this is a highly-militarised area. So the question that begs to be asked is ‘who bears responsibility’?

“We have seen an expansion in the activity of al Qaeda … because there are large swathes of territory that are beyond the full control of the governments in the region … It’s a source of great concern for us,” Fihri said. (Reporting By Souhail Karam; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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