Western Sahara: doggedness, incriminations and a UN confusion

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There are irreconcilable differences between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan crown to find a common ground agreement on the future of Western Sahara. This is an established fact according to a UN report published Tuesday. Faced with this situation, Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, has called for slower and more progressive negotiations consisting of “informal meetings” and thorough preparations.

Negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front on the future of Western Sahara have stalled. In a report published Tuesday, the UN Secretary-General is all but optimistic about a speedy resolution to the conflict of governance. Ban Ki-moon believes that the positions of both the Moroccan kingdom and the Saharawi independence movement are too far apart on how to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable course of action towards the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

The two sides have failed to find common ground for over a year now. The four rounds of negotiations in Manhasset, New York, have not helped in converging their points of views.

United Nations confused?

Even the United Nations envoy and highly acclaimed negotiator, Christopher Ross, has failed to resolve this thirty-year-old thorny issue as the two sides virtually battle in what has become negotiations geared towards failure to finding a common ground on the administration of Western Sahara.

On one hand, Morocco is suggesting autonomy under its sovereignty while the Polisario Front, on the other hand, is demanding a referendum for self-determination under the auspices of the United Nations. These points of divergence have led the United Nations to adopt a more pragmatic approach as Christopher Ross advocates for the establishment of a much slower negotiation process made up of small informal meetings and thorough preparations.

In essence, the new report is neither innovative nor concrete. Although the presence of MINURSO (UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) on the territory has been extended by a year — until 30 April 2010 — it is quite obvious that this presence remains hypothetical. Christopher Ross’ meticulous approach to guard the content of this informal meeting as a close secret reveals the level of impasse the UN is faced with.

The tug of war between Morocco and Polisario Front

These repeated failures and ambient pessimism is plunging Morocco’s hopes into further uncertainty as their plans for an autonomous Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty hits the wall. The United Nations, on its part, has neither endorsed the Moroccan proposal nor that of the Polisario Front.

The Kingdom of Morocco, meanwhile, is redoubling efforts to mar the credibility the independence movement. Tuesday, Rabat accused the Polisario Front of having violated a 1991 cease-fire, following the demonstration of 1400 people in Mahbes, located east of a berm built by Morocco. These incriminations have been rejected by the United Nations. According to the UN report, the military agreement 1 did not target civilian activities and therefore does not prohibit civilians from entering into the buffer zone.

For the Polisario Front the UN’s uncertain political views are reassuring. “This is proof that the proposal of autonomy is outdated and that a referendum is the only realistic option,” a representative of the Polisario Front saind in an interview on Radio France Internationale.

For now there is no immediate solution to this quagmire as the Polisario Front, Morocco and the United Nations stubbornly remain on their positions. The dispute over the future of Western Sahara is far from over …

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