afrol News, 22 June - The POLISARIO Front, fighting for and representing the people of Morocco-occupied Western Sahara has rejected a new United Nations plan to end the conflict over what is called Africa's last colony. The UN plan abandons the mutually accepted plan to hold a referendum on independence and prepares the UN withdrawal from the disputed territory.
Instead of organising the referendum, which has been prepared for nine years since the 1991 ceasefire, the plan of the Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, James Baker III, calls for a Sahrawi autonomy within the borders of Morocco. Baker wants the UN to launch talks aimed at accepting the territory as a part of Morocco, but with considerable autonomy.
The report, written by Envoy Baker, is signed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The Secretary-General, letting it clear he is tired of the endless Sahara conflict, thus gives his unconditional support to the plan. He further expresses this could be "the last chance" to reach a peaceful solution in the Western Sahara issue.
POLISARIO spokesman Ibrahim Mokhtar on the other hand told the press the plan did not respect the rights of the people in Western Sahara. "To give us an autonomy," he said, "we have to be first part of them [Morocco] and we are not part of them." Instead, such a move would implicate the return to armed struggle of the POLISARIO against Moroccan occupation. "What alternative do we have? Do you want us to die in the refugee camps?" Mokhtar said.
Baker's plan includes the autonomy of Western Sahara within Morocco. Within four years of autonomy, however, a referendum should be held about the territory's future - autonomy or independence. The problem is, anybody who then has lived in Western Sahara for a more than a year would vote on the future status of the country. The current majority population of Western Sahara are Moroccans, settled there through large government subsidies just to assure a Moroccan dominance. Morocco thus easily could assure a 'no' to independence by outweighing returning refugees with new Moroccan settlers.
Preparations for a referendum about Western Sahara's independence have been made since 1992, shortly after a ceasefire stopping the open hostilities that had been going on since Morocco occupied the Spanish ex-colony seeking independence in 1975. The conflict has left an estimated 160,000 Sahrawis - a majority of the population - living in Algerian refugee camps for decades. The referendum was a condition for the cease-fire and was to be organised by the UN to establish a final solution for the contested territory.
Morocco has however bogged down the referendum by continuing arguments over who should be allowed to vote, thus stopping its implementation. Year after year, for nine years, the vote was delayed as Morocco refused to allow the referendum to go ahead unless the UN included around 170,000 Moroccan names. Backing down on the referendum, demanded by a great number of UN resolutions, thus is seen as rewarding Morocco for its policy of delay.
The UK Western Sahara Campaign, one of hundreds of organisations supporting POLISARIO's struggle worldwide, in a statement claimed Baker was "jumping into bed with Morocco" with his proposal. The organisation's leader, Richard Stanforth, says "the move represents the personal defeat of James Baker and the abject failure of the UN to implement its own agreements. Nearly half a billion US dollars of UN expenditure and ten years work by thousands of UN officials would be wasted if Morocco gets its way."
Special Envoy and Former United States Secretary of State James Baker, which had been widely criticised for his poor handling of the peace talks and his long absence during the US elections, gradually lost the confidence of the Sahrawi party. His new plan, throwing overboard the consensus already established, thus has been met with little credibility within the POLISARIO. They simply call it a "Moroccan proposal" and are forging their preparations for a renewed armed struggle.
The POLISARIO has repeatedly stated that it would go to war if the Sahrawi people were not able to exercise "their inalienable right to self-determination and independence" as defined by the International Court of Justice in 1975.
Baker's plan of giving in to Moroccan delay policy re-awakens the speculations over a UN wish to back out of the Sahara conflict, which does not seem to find any solution. Baker, fully aware of POLISARIO's plans to take up arms again, seems to have understood that his negotiating efforts not will bring him laurels. The UN plan thus reminds more of a negotiation capitulation than an intention to move forwards.
If the cease-fire breaks, UN peacekeepers are on the first flight out, finally ending their unsuccessful mission. The UN mission has been extended for remarkably short intervals lately, indicating the UN's wish to retreat from the zone. Annan also has spent much effort in explaining that he sees "no progress in Western Sahara" over the last months.
Baker's proposal is to be presented to the UN Security Council on Saturday. Given the composition of the Council, it might be adopted. Strong supporters of the POLISARIO, such as the majority of African countries (the Organisation of African Unity recognises POLISARIO as Western Sahara's government) and European countries, are not represented. Veto holders as France (Moroccan ally) and the US (wanting to cut the UN's expenditure) might very well back Baker's plan.
POLISARIO's representative in the UN, Ahmed Buhari, in a press conference stated his disapproval to the plan by James Baker, written in the name of Kofi Annan. "This is a conspiracy by the French-Moroccan party, in the clothes of Baker, to try to make the Security Council change its mind. We will not fall in this pitfall."