- As the UN Security Council is to decide on its further engagement in the conflict over Western Sahara, Sahrawis fear that the world body is slowly turning away from its former resolutions that demand a referendum over independence in the Moroccan-occupied territory. Morocco holds that a UN referendum already has proven an "inapplicable plan".
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday called for a six-month extension of the UN's peacekeeping mission (MINURSO) deployed in the disputed territory since 1991 to organise the referendum. In a new report to the UN Security Council, which is to decide over MINURSO's future, Mr Annan cited "the need for diplomatic efforts to break the impasse over Western Sahara."
MINURSO, according to Mr Annan, was still necessary because it "continues to play a key stabilising and ceasefire monitoring role." The UN chief and his personal envoy to Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum, however attach little hope to the original mandate of MINURSO; the organisation of a referendum.
In April 2004, Morocco said it could not accept a referendum that included independence as an option. This led Mr van Walsum, to warn that any new plan "would be doomed from the outset to be rejected by Morocco unless it excluded the provision for a referendum with independence as an option." For its part, the UN "could not endorse a plan that excluded a genuine referendum while claiming to provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara," Mr Annan pointed out.
As long as "no one was going to force Morocco to give up its claim of sovereignty over Western Sahara," two options remained, according to Mr Annan: indefinite prolongation of the current deadlock in anticipation of a different political reality; or direct negotiations between the parties. Mr van Walsum however warned that a continuation of the current impasse could only lead to a radicalisation of the Sahrawi, living in desolate refugee camps in the Algerian desert since 1976.
To the Sahrawi exiled government, Polisario, the low ambitions outlined in the UN's report today were not welcome. Polisario representative to the UN, Boukhari Ahmed, in a letter to the UN Security Council said his exiled government had expected "a renewal of the commitment of the UN to end the last African case of decolonisation."
"The UN should not accept a plan that excludes the organisation of a real self-determination referendum that answers the claims of the Sahrawi people", the Sahrawi diplomat writes, adding that the Security Council had got a "new opportunity" to re-launch the peace process through forcing Morocco to fully subscribe to the implementation of the decisions made earlier by the Council.
Also the Algerian government, which supports the Polisario's quest for independence, has reacted negatively to the removal of the referendum aim. The Algerian representative at UN headquarters in a letter to Mr Annan complained about the lack of pressure to implement the referendum planned since 1991. He described the approach of Mr Annan's report as a "drift that Algeria does not and cannot, in any circumstance, back nor endorse."
The Moroccan government, on the other hand, has so far been positive about the report, which opens up for an "indefinite prolongation of the current deadlock," in the UN's words. Rabat has been accused of basically playing for time in this conflict, slowly establishing new facts on the ground.
In a letter to Mr Annan, the leader of Morocco's Royal Advisory Council for Sahrawi Affairs (CORCAS), Khalihenna Ould Errachid, today wrote that it was "common knowledge" that the organisation of a fair referendum had failed because the UN plan of 1991 was "inapplicable". Morocco wants to negotiate an autonomy solution for the Western Sahara territory, which is strongly rejected by Polisario and Algeria.
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