afrol News, 27 June - There has been released little information from yesterday's closed UN Security Council meeting, to be continued tomorrow, on the new Western Sahara plan that abandons the long awaited independence referendum. The plan's architect, James Baker III, however had to admit that his plan was based on a Moroccan concept.
The new UN plan for a solution to the 25-years-old Western Sahara conflict, proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in cooperation with his Personal Envoy James Baker, yesterday was discussed in the UN Security Council. The plan already has met strong rejection from the POLISARIO Front, representing the Sahrawi struggle to regain the territory, while it has been applauded by Morocco, the country occupying Western Sahara since 1975. The plan turned away from the referendum, which the UN has tried to organise for nine years, and rather proposed autonomy under Moroccan rule.
UN Envoy and former US Secretary of State, James Baker, yesterday was questioned by Algeria, POLISARIO's main ally, in the Security Council. He had to admit the "Moroccan origin" of his plan, although maintaining that the original Moroccan plan had been "polished" before making it his own.
Presenting his plan to the 15-members strong Council, Baker defended it warmly, saying it was another approach to what he described as "a very difficult problem." Baker maintained that the plan was aimed at bringing the two sides to the table and did not mean abandoning the current settlement plan, which calls for a referendum to allow the people of the Territory to choose between independence or integration with Morocco.
- We are not asking in this proposal that anyone give up anything, Baker told reporters after briefing the Security Council during closed-door consultations. "We are asking that the parties are willing to come to the table and talk. The settlement plan will not be abandoned," Baker stressed, "but we've been trying to implement the settlement plan for 10 years now, and it would seem reasonable to try another approach if another approach is possible."
The limited possibilities for Baker's new plan to succeed have been made clear by the total rejection of it by the POLISARIO and Algeria. The Algerian ambassador to the UN, Abdallah Baali, yesterday said UN officials had "twisted facts, truncated arguments and shamelessly taken sides on an extremely sensitive issue." In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo on 25 June, the Sahrawi President, Mohamed Abdelaziz viewed the plan as a "declaration of war."
The strong reactions against the plan did not come as a surprise to the UN negotiator. Baker had already on 5 May shown the Moroccan origin of the plan to the Representation for Europe of the POLISARIO Front, and met "total and definitive rejection," according to the POLISARIO Representation. Details from the plan thus released show that Baker's and Annan's 'new plan' is almost identical with the earlier Moroccan proposal.
Although the POLISARIO and Algerian rejection of the plan is total, there is still a possibility it can be endorsed by the Security Council - even if POLISARIO's non-compliance would deem the plan to fail before it would have been launched. It is expected that Council veto holders France and the United States will agree to it. Discussions on a draft resolution on Western Sahara were begun yesterday, but had to be adjourned.
Although most analyses maintain that Baker's and Annan's plan probably will get the support of the Security Council, the pro-POLISARIO 'UK Western Sahara Campaign' believes it will be rejected by the Council. "The proposals ... are so far from what is acceptable to Security Council members, that Baker may be forced to resign," the organisations analyses.
With increasing information confirming that the long-prepared referendum in fact could be implemented within a very short period of time, Security Council members could consider that the nine years of work invested in its implementation should not be wasted by a rushed change in policy that is not supported by both parties.
Even James Baker, speaking to the Security Council, admitted that a consensus between the parties was needed to reach a peaceful and durable solution to the conflict. "It's not going to be resolved unless the parties are willing to exercise the political will necessary to engage, under UN auspices, and work out their differences," the UN Envoy concluded. Such a "political will" is ruled out by the POLISARIO if the new plan is to form the basis of negotiations.
Also the strong Algerian protests to the plan had made an impression. Algeria, which under pressure from France first had sent Baker a memorandum saying it did not rule it out as a basis for talks, later sent a firm protest to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Baker, noting the key Algerian change of mind, confirmed to the Security Council that, if Algeria was to withdraw its support to the plan, one could not "preview a good perspective for a peaceful solution to the Saharan conflict." Annan still refuses to comment on the Algerian letter of protest, according to the UN itself.
By afrol editor Pablo Gracia Sáez