Western Sahara
Security Council carefully backs new Sahara plan

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UN Envoy James Baker III

«The proposed Framework Agreement offers what may be the last window of opportunity for years to come.»

UN Envoy James Baker III

afrol News, 30 June - The UN Security Council yesterday carefully backed the new plan for a solution to the Western Sahara conflict, which calls for an autonomy under Moroccan rule, "encouraging the parties to discuss" it. The Council however opened for other, new proposals to be made by the parties, thus signalling this was neither the only nor preferred solution. The Sahrawis succeeded that the preparations for a referendum are to continue. 

The parties in reality were given five months time "to discuss" the proposal published 20 June by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his Personal Envoy to Western Sahara, James Baker III. The plan, articulated in a draft "Framework Agreement" foresees abandoning the ten-year-old plan of first organising a referendum about the disputed territory. The "Framework Agreement", implying Western Sahara's autonomy under Moroccan rule, has been categorically rejected by the territory's exiled government, the POLISARIO.

While Annan's and Baker's plan, admittedly based in a Moroccan proposal, undiplomatically caused new tensions, the Security Council's resolution was a diplomatic masterpiece, giving all parties the possibility to claim victory. The resolution "extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 30 November," based on Annan's and Baker's report (including the "Framework Agreement"). 

Further, the unanimous resolution gives its assurances to all parties that the "Framework Agreement" will not be forced upon any party - on the contrary: "By the terms of the resolution, the Council encouraged the parties to discuss the draft Framework Agreement and to negotiate any specific changes they would like to see in that proposal, as well as to discuss any other proposal for a political solution. It emphasized that by engaging in those negotiations, the parties would not prejudice their final positions."

The Security Council thus had given its unanimous support to Baker and Annan (which only hours before unanimously had be re-elected as UN Secretary-General for five years). UN media thus could proudly announce that the Council "backs Annan's proposal for framework talks on Western Sahara". The resolution had indeed been based on Annan's report and proposals.

On the other hand, the resolution called for alternative plans, thus encouraging POLISARIO and its ally Algeria to make their own proposal. The extension of MINURSO for five months "to organize a referendum for the self-determination of the Territory's people" means that the organisation of a referendum goes on. The resolution explicitly was "reiterating full support for the ongoing efforts of ... MINURSO to implement the ... referendum."

In practical terms, thus, the only changes the Council's resolution implies are a strong and unanimous call for direct negotiations between Morocco and POLISARIO to move out of the deadlock. Although encouraging the parties to discuss the draft "Framework Agreement", they are also encouraged to "discuss any other proposal for a political solution."

Morocco thus can claim a victory for the Security Council's support of the "Framework Agreement" while POLISARIO can claim a victory for the ongoing work with preparations for the referendum, the "Framework Agreement" not being the only basis for direct negotiations and for the Council's affirmation that while discussions go on, proposals submitted by POLISARIO to overcome the obstacles in the referendum would be considered.

Both Algeria and POLISARIO were relieved by the text of the Security Council's resolution after having been shocked by Annan's and Baker's original plan. The POLISARIO was especially relieved that the referendum process had been "spared", as POLISARIO representative to the UN, Ahmed Buhari, put it. The "polemic and offensive impact" Annan's proposal had been "diminished". Algerian spokesman Abdallah Baali also said the final text was "equilibrated". 

Morocco, on the other hand, interpreted the resolution as a "clear mandate" to start negotiation "on the basis of" Annan's proposals. Citing Annan's and Baker's report, this would be "a last solution for peace," according to Morocco - a quotation taken somewhat out of its context.

While the Security Council's resolution indeed provides all parties with important gains after Annan's and Baker's proposal had jeopardised the fragile cease-fire, it however remains to be seen whether it can contribute to a solution to the conflict. By having to consider the "Framework Agreement", very close to the Moroccan position, the parties are set to start negotiating with highly polarised viewpoints. 

Within five months, however, the Security Council expects to see results. The parties must have shown that they have been willing to engage in talks and made concrete proposals. Further, the Security Council expects that POLISARIO finally releases the 1,479 Moroccan prisoners of war still being held in camps in the Tindouf area of Algeria, most for more than 20 years. If one of the parties proves not to have been willing to negotiate or demonstrate its willingness to move forward, this party very well can expect a less diplomatic resolution by the Council in November.

Sources: Based on UN sources, press reports, POLISARIO and afrol archives

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