Morocco & Western Sahara
Morocco silent on Sahara talks

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Foreign Minister Benaissa

«Respect of Morocco's national sovereignty and territorial integrity»

Foreign Affairs Minister Mohamed Benaissa

afrol News, 15 January - One day after the UN Envoy for Western Sahara, James Baker, has met with the Moroccan King, few details of Mr Baker's proposals have leaked. Moroccan officials however confirm that the UN Envoy had made concrete proposals to solve the Western Sahara crisis, which were to provide for self-determination for the Sahrawis.

Mr Baker, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, in a declaration to the 'Abu Dhabi' TV channel, diffused Tuesday evening, also gave few details. He however confirmed that he had presented a proposal to King Mohammed VI, aiming at "arriving to an initiative allowing a political solution of the question of Sahara." 

Giving the only indication to the content of this proposal, Mr Baker said it was within the framework of the UN Security Council resolution of 30 July. "It is in this quality that I am here [in Morocco], in order to arrive to an initiative allowing a political solution to the question." The 30 July UN resolution implied a revitalisation of the 1991 plan to hold a referendum among the Sahrawis whether to establish an independent Sahrawi state. In the resolution, the Council "expresses its readiness to consider any approach which provides for self-determination" for the Sahrawis.

Mr Baker yesterday started his roundtrip to north-western Africa, where he is to meet the political leadership of Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the POLISARIO, the exiled government of the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara territory. The UN Envoy, who personally favours a pro-Moroccan solution that would make Western Sahara an autonomous Moroccan province, will have to present a proposal that in some way opens for a referendum over the disputed territory's future.

The Moroccan government however has been clear in its rejection of "self-determination" for the Sahrawis, although it had agreed to cooperate in the organisation of a referendum in the 1991 ceasefire with the POLISARIO. "Morocco emphasizes its full readiness to cooperate with the UN ... within the respect of the Kingdom's national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Moroccan Foreign Affairs Minister Mohamed Benaissa repeated yesterday, after meeting with Mr Baker. Morocco officially includes Western Sahara into its "territorial integrity".

Mr Benaissa gave few details of the meeting in Morocco's coastal resort Agadir. He however confirmed Morocco would study "in a constructive spirit" the proposals made by Mr Baker, who enjoyed "credibility" and had "a full understanding of the Sahara issue," according to the Minister. This positive assessment may indicate that Mr Baker's proposals for Sahrawi "self-determination" are modified to meet Moroccan demands. Rabat wants to include the many Moroccan settlers that have been brought to Sahara into the voting lists, thus enhancing the possibilities for a pro-Moroccan result of the referendum.

The Moroccan government and press have been fiercely campaigning for a pro-Moroccan in preparation of Mr Baker's visit. While the Rabat government emphasises the "Moroccan sovereignty over the Southern provinces" (i.e. Western Sahara), the local press echoes the national points of view. 

'Aujoud'hui le Maroc', an independent daily, yesterday wrote that the referendum option had "gone bankrupt" and called for the establishment of an autonomous province, "although this does not fully do justice to Morocco." The government-close press is equally concerned about Morocco's "territorial integrity". Publishing other opinions on the Sahara issue in the Moroccan press, by the way, is strictly illegal. 

Also the Sahrawi party to the conflict has been actively campaigning to promote its views. POLISARIO representatives opt for a temporary UN administration of the territory while the referendum is organised. It is made clear that anything else than a fair chance for the Sahrawis to express their will may lead to the end of the 1991 ceasefire. Twelve years of failed preparations of a referendum had only led to further Moroccan control and exploitation of the territory, while Sahrawi refugees prevail in poverty in camps in Algeria.

The Sahrawis are however not optimistic about Mr Baker's upcoming proposals, given the UN Envoy's obvious siding with Morocco. Mr Baker, an ex-US Secretary of State with personal ties to President Bush, is closely connected to the US oil industry, which is securing Moroccan contracts for the exploitation of oil offshore Western Sahara's coast. The US, together with France and the UK, are promoting the inclusion of Western Sahara into Morocco. 

Sources: Based on Moroccan govt and media, UN, Polisario and afrol archives.

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