- The UN Security Council today again extended its peacekeeping mandate in Western Sahara through October, without presenting any new ideas on how a peaceful solution for the Moroccan-occupied territory can be found. The extension without peace plan cements the stalemate over Western Sahara at the risk of radicalising the estimated 150,000 Sahrawi refugees living in camps in the Algerian desert since 1976.
In recommending the mandate extension in his latest report on the matter, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the UN peacekeeping mission (MINURSO) continues to play "a key stabilising and monitoring role in the ceasefire" between Morocco, which claims the former Spanish colony, and the Polisario independence movement. He however made no mention of MINURSO's original mandate, which is to organise a referendum over independence for Western Sahara.
Mr Annan voiced hope that during the next half year, "the parties will reflect on the prolonged period that has elapsed since the start of this conflict and on the need for both to take actions that may lead to a just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution." Besides urging Polisario and Morocco to negotiate, the UN however made no mention of effective pressure to achieve a peace solution.
MINURSO was established in 1991 to organise a self-determination referendum in the territory, which is treated as Africa's last colony by the UN. The establishment came after a negotiated ceasefire between Morocco and Polisario, which was based on the promise of a referendum. But in April 2004, Morocco said it could not accept a referendum that included independence as an option.
This led the UN Secretary-General's personal envoy tp Western Sahara, Peter 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," Mr Annan's report to the UN Security Council notes. Polisario has however also ruled out "new plans" that are not based on the many UN resolutions on a vote over independence.
Also Mr Annan voiced scepticism at these comments. 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 said earlier this week.
Given those strictures, two options remain, the UN leader said: indefinite prolongation of the current deadlock in anticipation of a different political reality; or direct negotiations between the parties. Without UN incentives to find a solution, the first option currently seems the most likely. Analysts however warn that this would lead to a radicalisation of Sahrawi refugees in Algeria, where a growing part is calling for renewed warfare.
After today's vote, the UN Security Council members urged the parties to take heed of Mr Annan's report and use the next six months to reach a negotiated settlement of the impasse. Few however expect this to happen, in particular as Morocco is quite happy with the current stalemate that gives Rabat the opportunity to change realities on the ground in Western Sahara.
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