- The UN's new effort to end the deadlock in the Western Sahara conflict seem to be failing as Morocco refuses to accept the present peace plan. In a memorandum to the UN, the pressured diplomacy of Morocco lashes out against Algeria - Western Sahara's main ally - and its "campaign" against Morocco's "territorial integrity".
The government in Rabat has recently experienced a major diplomatic setback as the government of South Africa recognised the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), whose territory the Moroccan army occupies. Also the European Parliament and the government of Turkey are reported to favour recognition of SADR after decades of Moroccan efforts to hinder a referendum over independence in the former Spanish colony.
The UN's special envoy for the Western Sahara conflict, Alvaro de Soto, is currently seeking a new round of the peace process that has gone on since the 1991 UN-monitored ceasefire. He has asked the parties - Morocco, the SADR government and neighbouring countries Algeria and Mauritania - to present new viewpoints on how to end the conflict.
The memorandum issued by the Rabat Ministry of Foreign Affairs must have been bad news but not come as a surprise to Mr de Soto. It principally lashes out against Algeria and the universally accepted version of the Western Sahara conflict in a manner that makes Rabat diplomats look somewhat desperate. The memorandum mostly answers issues raised by South Africa's recognition of SADR and only to a lesser degree answer Mr de Soto's questions.
- Since 1973, Algeria was keen to hamper systematically the completion of Morocco's territorial integrity, the Moroccan letter to the UN claims. Algeria, further, was sponsoring the SADR and in 1976 "embarked on an all-out campaign to make some countries recognise this fictitious 'entity' that does not have any of the characteristics of a sovereign State."
In another message more directed at South Africa than at the UN, the Moroccan Ministry says: "Several countries have opted for the withdrawal of their recognition afterwards so as not to hinder the process for a peaceful settlement of the conflict within the framework of the United Nations."
Algeria, however, was the root of even more evils, according to Rabat. The eastern neighbour in its memorandum to the UN had described Morocco as "the occupying power" of Western Sahara. This was "completely erroneous and unsuitable," according to an analysis that covers half the memorandum and counters most of the generally accepted summaries of Western Sahara's history.
Among the most controversial issues in the document's history lecture is how the UN attempts to organise a referendum in Western Sahara allegedly ended in 2000. The implementation had been "stuck by obstacles systematically set by the Polisario to thwart the identification process" of potential voters, Rabat holds. The UN itself at the time held that it was Rabat's repeated admittance of thousands of new voters that thwarted the process.
Only in the document's short conclusion, the Moroccan government raises the issue of future peace talks. "The Moroccan people are concerned in the Sahara issue over the completion of their territorial integrity and the safeguard of their national unity," the memorandum says. This reference to "territorial integrity" in Rabat's language means that it cannot accept the referendum that is part of the UN Security Council-endorsed plan.
The UN, holds the Moroccan diplomacy, had itself "clearly established the impracticality to apply" the peace agreements of 1991, based on a referendum over independence. The memorandum's conclusion makes no mention of the current plan, but repeats the kind offer by Rabat: "autonomy status" for Western Sahara within Morocco.
This option - never accepted by the UN - was "a political solution that is conform to international law and which offers the best prospects for a final settlement," the Moroccan memorandum says. Repeating its kind offer, Rabat therefore had shown it was "ready to engage, honestly and with determination, in an in-depth and constructive negotiation."
Mr de Soto soon will have to file a report to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the UN Security Council. Given the negative outcome of the talks with Rabat, Mr Annan may soon have to get serious with his threat of withdrawing the costly UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara (Minurso).
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