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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 January 2008, 10:41 GMT
Peacekeepers 'deface ancient art'
Map of dispute region
UN peacekeepers in the disputed African territory of Western Sahara have vandalised ancient rock paintings, a UN official has told a UK newspaper.

The Times has published pictures of the paintings, some 6,000 years old, showing them defaced with spray paint.

Julian Harston, the UN official responsible for Western Sahara, said he had been shocked by the vandalism.

He said funds would now be sought from the UN cultural organisation, Unesco, to remove the graffiti.

Western Sahara has been at the centre of a bitter dispute since former colonial power Spain pulled out in 1975 and neighbouring Morocco invaded.

UN peacekeepers were deployed in 1991 to monitor a ceasefire between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, which has been seeking independence for the territory.

'Tragedy'

Graffiti, including the spray-painting of UN personnel's names, can be seen at Lajuad, an important archaeological site, Mr Harston said.

According to The Times, an area there known as Devil Mountain is regarded by the local Sahrawi people as a place of great cultural significance.

"I was appalled. You'd think some of them would know better. These are officers, not squaddies," Mr Harston said.

Nick Brook, a climate scientist who runs the Western Sahara Project, has written a blog about his findings which show pictures of graffiti more than a metre high on granite rocks.

He says the vandalism at Lajuad is not the first example of the deliberate vandalism of an archaeological site by the UN.

"It is a tragedy that UN personnel tasked with resolving one of the world's longest running military and political conflicts are engaging in the wilful destruction of important archaeological sites that have much to teach us about the prehistory of a part of the world that is virtually unknown to the international research community," he writes on his Sand and Dust blog.

SEE ALSO
In pictures: Africa's forgotten war
01 May 07 |  In Pictures
Polisario rejects autonomy plan
07 Nov 05 |  Africa
'Africa's last colony'
21 Oct 03 |  Africa
Regions and territories: Western Sahara
18 Aug 05 |  Country profiles

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