- The President of Western Sahara, Mohammed Abdelaziz, in a strongly worded letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon complains about his poor leadership and unwillingness to fulfil the UN's mandate in the Moroccan-occupied territory. Mr Abdelaziz demands changes to the UN peacekeeping mission.
Nearly two decades ago, the UN peacekeeping mission MINURSO was sent to Western Sahara to oversee a ceasefire between Morocco and the Sahrawi independence movement POLISARIO and to organise a referendum regarding Western Sahara's independence. Moroccan obstruction policies hindered the referendum, and since then, MISURSO peacekeepers have been defined to boredom in the desert region.
But in his latest periodical report to the UN Security Council about Western Sahara, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon barely mentions the referendum that is key to MINURSO's mandate. Mr Abdelaziz is furious about the development.
The fact that "the report recommends that MINURSO's presence should be continued only 'for the maintenance of the ceasefire', implies, on the one hand, that the UN has accepted Morocco's fabricated claim that a referendum is now not possible and on the other, that MINURSO's role is to be reduced solely to the observation of an illegal occupation," the Sahrawi leader writes in his letter to Mr Ki-moon.
A second matter of great irritation is the little attention given to Moroccan human rights violations against Sahrawis in the occupied territory. Despite repeated calls by international human rights groups such as Amnesty and by POLISARIO, the UN peacekeeping mission has not been given a logical extension of its mandate to monitor human rights abuses. Independent groups have documented systematic human rights abuses by the Moroccan occupiers.
In a recent move, POLISARIO invited the UN to monitor the human rights situation in the small part of the territory under its control and in the Algeria-based refugee camps where the exiled Western Sahara government is housed.
"Instead, you have chosen in your report to uncritically reproduce Morocco's assertion that the Frente POLISARIO is raising the issue of human rights as a political diversion," Mr Abdelaziz writes. "This is outrageous," the Sahrawi leader adds, saying that the fundamental rights to freedom of speech and freedom of movement were "prerequisites" to hold a referendum.
The UN engagement in Western Sahara has been noted by decreasing intensity and interest over the last few years. Kofi Annan made some high-profiled attempts to find a mediated solution during his first years as UN leader but gradually gave up. With his far less energetic successor now heading the UN, no progress at all is noted.
The disappointment among the estimated 200,000 Sahrawi refugees living in Algerian camps since 1976 is growing. "After nearly two decades of failing in its duty to implement the referendum allowing for the exercise of self-determination by the people of Western Sahara, as agreed to in the 1991 Settlement Plan, we are fast reaching the conclusion that the UN has neither the capacity nor the fortitude to address Moroccan obstructions and deliver – finally – on its promise of a free and fair referendum," Mr Abdelaziz notes.
The POLISARIO leader therefore now demands that the Western Sahara issue is put higher on the UN agenda. "We are now calling on the [UN Security] Council to significantly increase the regularity of its debate of the situation in Western Sahara to once every quarter, supported by more frequent and accurate reporting from your office," he writes in the letter to Mr Ki-moon.
The demand implicates that MINURSO's mandate in Western Sahara would only be given for four months at the time, is stead of the current six months. This would increase the pressure on the UN to seek progress between each time MINURSO's mandate is renewed. POLISARIO, as one of the two parties in the 1991 ceasefire, can demand the withdrawal of MINURSO and as such influence the length of its running mandates.
Interestingly, however, Mr Abdelaziz at this stage did not indicate POLISARIO was considering asking for the termination of MINURSO's mandate. At earlier occasions, the Sahrawi leader has threatened to withdraw from the 1991 settlement, which would imply the termination of MINURSO's mandate.
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