afrol News, 8 January - The UN Envoy for Western Sahara, James Baker, is set to make a new effort to solve the deadlocked Western Sahara conflict this month. Visiting the region from 14 to 17 January, Mr Baker will have to present solutions to the parties he is personally unhappy about. As increasing economic interests complicate this old conflict, nobody believes Mr Baker can present results before the 31 January deadline, set by the UN Security Council.
Hua Jiang, spokeswoman of the Envoy, this week told the press in New York Mr Baker was preparing his upcoming trip to the region. The Envoy was to "visit Rabat, Algiers, Tindouf and Nouakchott for meetings with the governments of Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania and the leadership of the Frente POLISARIO," Ms Jiang informed.
- During his mission, Mr Baker will present and explain to the parties and neighbouring countries a proposal for a political solution of the conflict over Western Sahara, which provides for self-determination as requested by Security Council resolution 1429, the spokeswoman said.
Mr Baker is however known to be uncomfortable with the named resolution, which expresses the Security Council's "readiness to consider any approach which provides for self-determination," which means that the Sahrawi people are to be allowed to vote for or against independence. The Envoy, a former US secretary of state, had favoured a solution that would make Western Sahara an autonomous province within Morocco. The only party to the conflict agreeing to this was Morocco, which was supported by the US and France in the Security Council.
Now, Mr Baker will go another round with the parties to establish whether there is a willingness to organise the Western Sahara referendum, which they all had agreed to in the 1991 cease fire. The answer is given before the Envoy starts his talks; all parties except Morocco will accept, while Morocco will demand that Mr Baker's proposal of an autonomous Sahrawi province within Morocco must be implemented.
Since the July 2002 Security Council resolution to restart the efforts to organise a referendum, the Moroccan government has become ever more eager to state it will not accept any threats to its "national sovereignty," which is Rabat's terminology when it comes to its sovereignty claims over the Western Sahara territory. King Mohammed VI has been even more explicit and intensive in his claims over Western Sahara, making it a matter of personal prestige and authority.
The economic complications regarding the territory occupied by Morocco since 1975 have grown steadily over the last years. Both the Moroccan government and the POLISARIO Front have hired each their foreign company to explore for oil off the Sahrawi coastline. Both governments claim rights to sell off fishing rights. Meanwhile, the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) - aimed at creating a tax free zone between Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia - is blocked by Morocco's conceived threat to its "national sovereignty."
Mr Baker has until 31 January to present a new solution to this age-old conflict, which should be welcomed by all parties. On this day, the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara expires. The most probable solution is, however, that the Envoy will report yet another failure to the Security Council, which then will extends its Mission's mandate for another six months. The question that remains least secure is whether Mr Baker will wish to continue his mission under these circumstances.
Sources: Based on UN spources and afrol archives.