afrol News, 22 January - As the content of the new UN peace plan for Western Sahara is slowly leaking out, Sahrawis are shocked. The plan, which resembles closely to the so-called "Framework Agreement" that was defeated three times in the Security Council, is to be pushed through with all possible force, it seems. Sahara would end up a Moroccan province.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has presented yet another report on the situation in Western Sahara to the Security Council. While not disclosing any details of the plan to solve the Western Sahara crisis, Mr Annan strongly appeals to the parties to "demonstrate statesmanship and seize this new opportunity." They have until 31 March to present their reactions, as the "UN is facing many other pressing concerns regarding the maintenance of international peace and security."
Mr Annan's Special Envoy for Western Sahara, former US Secretary of State James Baker, last week had travelled to the stakeholders, Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the exiled Sahrawi POLISARIO government in the Algerian refugee camps of Tindouf. There, he presented his newest proposal to the 27-year-old conflict, which has made refugees out of most of Western Sahara's original population.
No official statements have been given from the parties as the content of Mr Baker's and Mr Annan's proposals remains secret. An immediate Moroccan promise to cooperate and heavy leaking from the Tindouf camps however give an impression on what is going on.
Several sources connected to the POLISARIO have provided information on the "new" plan, which they characterise as a copy of Mr Baker's 2001 "Framework Agreement". According to these sources, the proposal foresees the establishment of an autonomous Sahrawi province within Morocco, which would organise a referendum on the issue of independence in four or five years.
The problem is that, while the 1991 ceasefire agreement between Morocco and POLISARIO had foreseen that only Sahrawis were to vote on the independence question, Mr Baker's plan would assure a Moroccan majority in the voters' list. All those that have lived in the territory for more than 25 years would be eligible voters. Morocco occupied Sahara 27 years ago, settled large amounts of Moroccans and the majority of the Sahrawis went to an Algerian refuge.
The POLISARIO and its Algerian allies have already stated clearly that such a solution would not be acceptable to them. They demand a free vote organised by the UN and with only Sahrawi voters - as they had been guaranteed by several UN resolutions. Also the UN Security-Council has rejected the "Framework Agreement" on several occasions, against the votes of the US, the UK and France. On 30 July, the Council gave Mr Baker and Mr Annan a clear order to find a solution that would guarantee auto-determination to the Sahrawis.
The odds therefore seemed against Mr Baker again presenting a solution that would favour Morocco. This time, the UN Envoy however is set to use all his influence to achieve his aims. Mr Baker already is reported to have threatened to resign as negotiator if the Security Council does not support the proposal. "He thinks negotiations have gone on far too long, he wants to see a clear path forward on the issue," a US official told the 'Financial Times'.
Diplomats had said there was a draft resolution written by the US government being distributed among Security Council members. This draft, favoured by Mr Baker called for the Sahrawi territory eventually to become an autonomous province of Morocco, although it would go through a referendum process. "In a way it's blackmail, in another it's fatigue," one senior Security Council diplomat told the British newspaper on Friday.
The connections between US and French economic interests in Western Sahara and Mr Baker's negotiation efforts have been increasingly exposed during the last months. Mr Baker and senior US officials are personally tied to the US and French oil companies that have been granted exploration rights off the Sahrawi coast by the Moroccan government.
The POLISARIO is slowly coming to terms with the surprise proposal by the UN Envoy. Officials have already stated the new proposal had nothing new to offer and would therefore be rejected. 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.
Sahrawis had been encouraged by the massive support against earlier versions of the "Framework Agreement" and had a genuine hope of a new proposal that would have brought them independence. Disappointment therefore was big as the news of a new autonomy proposal leaked out.
Sidi Mahmoud Banemou, a Sahrawi lawyer, said refugees had seem Mr Baker as a "dreamed-of Messiah" when he stepped into the role of UN Envoy in 1997, but now were disappointed. "Contrary to all expectations, the 'Framework agreement' was born. Like the sect of the Raelians, our saviour experiments with cloning in a new field: conflict resolution. However, it is not possible to 'clone' annexation and freedom! The foreign cell will be rejected by the body," Mr Banemou says.
Sources: Based on Norwegian Sahara Committee, SPS, UN sources and afrol archives.