afrol News, 1 May - The UN Security Council has extended the mandate of its mission to Western Sahara for a period of three months without making the awaited decision on the territories future. The Council said it needed more time to consider the wide-ranging proposals made by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in February. At least two of Annan's proposal could lead to renewed war.
In many ways, the Security Council's failure to decide on further action was a disappointment to the parties to the conflict and the UN mediators. Annan's Personal Envoy to Western Sahara, James Baker III, reportedly had threatened to resign if the Council failed to back his plan to resolve the 26-year-old crisis. Contrary to Baker's and Annan's pressure to make a quick decision, the Council however seems to have acted wisely in buying more time to reach a compromise. Both the Polisario Front independence movement and Morocco in advance have threatened fierce action if a decision against them would be embraced.
Annan and Baker had given four options in their February plan, asking the Council soon to decide "how it wishes to proceed with regard to the future of the peace process in Western Sahara."
Option one was that the Council should mandate Mr. Baker to prepare for a possible division of the territory between the two parties. This option has been loudly criticised by both parties. The Moroccan King, Mohammed VI, in March said he was outraged by the proposal, which he interpreted as an "expansionist" Algerian plan to create an Algerian-dominated "micro state" with access to the Atlantic. He said Morocco would oppose the "creation of artificial entities." Polisario Front has also protested the idea.
A second option was that the UN should "implement the 1988 settlement plan, even without the concurrence of the two parties." This, in practical terms, means that the referendum of Western Sahara's independence would be carried out by the UN without giving the parties (i.e. Morocco) further possibilities of who should be eligible in the referendum. This would almost surely lead to a victory for Sahrawi independence. Morocco will not accept this solution and is lobbying heavily against it. It remains unsure whether the UN would be able to organise a referendum if the Moroccan occupying forces resist cooperating or what would happen if Morocco resists approving the results of a referendum it protested against in advance.
A third option is giving Baker the authority "to revise the draft Framework Agreement - again without necessarily gaining the agreement of the parties." This in practical means carrying out a plan earlier presented by Baker to make the territory a semi-autonomous part of Morocco. This proposal is totally rejected by Polisario Front, which already has made it clear it would take up arms against Morocco again in such a case. Morocco has embraced the idea and Baker has admitted its Moroccan origin. Baker has also put much personal prestige in this option, alienating the Polisario Front.
The forth and last option is the complete withdrawal of UN peacekeepers (MINURSO) from Western Sahara "due to the lack of progress." The 11-year-old UN mission has been a costly affair and has "only" achieved to make the parties observe the 1991 ceasefire. A UN withdrawal would strongly enhance the risks of regional warfare. The Moroccan army has been significantly strengthened over the last years, being able of initial victories against Polisario. The independence movement, based in Algeria, would rely on Algerian support - a very likely option given the political situation in Algeria.
The reluctance of the Security Council to produce an answer to the categorical options presented by Annan and Baker therefore is a signal that the two diplomats have not found any optimal solution. It therefore can be interpreted as a personal defeat for them.
Baker, on the other hand, today downplayed his personal preferences. A UN spokesman today refuted press reports that Baker, had stated that he would resign if the Council did not give him a mandate to work on "revising the draft framework agreement." Baker "favours any option that will give him a clear mandate and which will have the support of the Security Council," spokesman Fred Eckhard said in a statement to the press.
- He is of the view that any option that the Security Council chooses, should give the Secretary-General and his Personal Envoy sufficient authority to try and resolve the long-standing conflict over Western Sahara, spokesman Eckhard summed up Baker's view. Baker thus still insists the Council should pick one of the four options he and Annan have defined. The Council yesterday however only extended the mandate of MINURSO until 31 July and thus may have time to look into other options or give Annan and Baker time to present other options.
Sources: Based on UN spources and afrol archives.