UN Peacekeepers Vandalize Sahara Prehistoric Art
From The Times
Spectacular prehistoric depictions of animal and human figures created up to 6,000 years ago on Western Saharan rocks have been vandalised by United Nations peacekeepers, The Times has learnt.
Archaeological sites boasting ancient paintings and engravings of giraffes, buffalo and elephants have been defaced within the past two years by personnel attached to the UN mission, known by its French acronym, Minurso.
Graffiti, some of it more than a metre high and sprayed with paint meant for use for marking routes, now blights the rock art at Lajuad, an isolated site known as Devil Mountain, which is regarded by the local Sahrawi population as a mystical place of great cultural significance.
Many of the UN “graffiti artists” signed and dated their work, revealing their identities and where they are from. Minurso personnel stationed in Western Sahara come from almost 30 countries. They are monitoring a ceasefire between the occupying Moroccan forces and the Polisario Front, which is seeking independence.
The extent of the damage is revealed in a report by Nick Brooks, of the University of East Anglia, and Joaquim Soler, of the University of Gerona, Spain, which was passed to The Times yesterday. It outlines the “severe vandalism”, saying that it “now appears to be an essentially universal practice when Minurso staff visit rock art sites . . . Minurso staff have felt entitled to destroy elements of Western Sahara’s and the Sahrawis’ cultural heritage, despite being aware of UN ethics in peacekeeping, and in breach of legislation enshrined in the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.”
It concludes: “Minurso personnel have played a major role in damaging archaeological sites, and such staff are engaged in the systematic defacement of valuable archaeological sites over a large area . . . the recent damage at Lajuad is unprecedented.”
The vandalism will reignite the debate about the conduct of UN peacekeepers after a series of scandals. Last January the UN admitted that more than 200 of its troops had been disciplined for sex offences, including rape and child abuse, in the preceding three years; in May it emerged that Paki-stani peacekeepers had been trading weapons with Congolese militia.