The Security Council is pressuring the parties to negotiate and renews the UN mission in Western Sahara for six months
Members of the Security Council vote on the resolution extending MINURSO in Western Sahara on 31 October in New York. Photo Loey Felipe /EFE
Representatives of the POLISARIO Front and Morocco will sit in Geneva on 5 and 6 December for a UN-sponsored round table in which Algeria and Mauritania will also participate as observers. The last talks between Morocco and the POLISARIO Front were held in Manhaset (USA) six years ago, in March 2012.
The arrival of the current UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, and his envoy for the Sahara, Horst Köhler, has given new impetus to a situation in which neither side has changed its position. The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) calls for a referendum on self-determination, while Rabat rejects this option and is only willing to grant more autonomy to what it considers its "southern provinces".
On 31 October, the Security Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for six months, until next April. The idea of shortening the deadline of the mission, which has been renewed every year until last April, is intended to put pressure on the parties to enter negotiations. The resolution was approved by 12 votes in favour and abstentions from Russia, Bolivia and Ethiopia. USA, which has set itself the objective of ending the status quo in the conflict, is the main promoter of the six-month shortening of the renewal period. For its part, Morocco and its main supporter in the Security Council, France, have come out in favour of extending the renewal by one year.
However, both sides saw something positive in the UN resolution. Morocco's Ambassador to the UN, Omar Hilale, pointed out in the local media that, for the first time, a Security Council resolution recognized Algeria as "the main element of the political process". Morocco has always tried to include Algeria in the negotiations on Western Sahara and the POLISARIO Front has always seen this as an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
Sidi Omar, representative of the POLISARIO Front to the UN, commented in a telephone conversation from Washington: "We do not expect and do not think that a concrete agreement will be reached next December in Geneva. But if we can agree on a timetable for the next meeting, that would be a feat. This will depend on the themes and timetable proposed by Personal Envoy Horst Köhler”.
Omar points out that the German Köhler was very active in opening the negotiations. "Köhler sent us letters of invitation for the round table in September. On 2 October, Morocco agreed and the POLISARIO Front agreed the next day. Then, the two neighbouring countries also agreed”.
On 9 November, King Mohamed VI sent a message of dialogue to Algeria that surprised many Moroccans. "Morocco is ready for a direct and sincere dialogue with its sister country Algeria in order to overcome the time and objective differences that hinder the development of relations between the two countries," the monarch said in his speech on the occasion of the 43rd anniversary of the Green March, with which Western Sahara passed into Moroccan hands.
The invitation had not even received an official response from the Algerian state until yesterday. And the answer was quite sceptical. The Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a communiqué calling on the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) to convene a meeting of foreign ministers as soon as possible to continue the reconstruction of this body. The AMU has been practically obsolete since 1989, when the Heads of State of Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Mauritania signed to establish an entity whose objective was the free movement of capital, goods and persons between the associated countries.
"Algeria's response", says a source from the POLISARIO Front, "is in fact like saying to Morocco: "If you really want to engage in dialogue, let's do it seriously and with all the Maghreb countries around the table".
Western Sahara was a Spanish colony until the Spanish army withdrew in 1976. Spain ceded the administration of the territories to Morocco and Mauritania a year earlier, without the POLISARIO Front, an armed movement which founded the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic in 1976. That same year, tens of thousands of Saharawis went into exile in camps near the Algerian town of Tindouf. Since then, the POLISARIO Front went to war with Mauritania and Morocco. It signed peace with Mauritania in 1979 and a ceasefire with Morocco in 1991, when MINURSO was created.