Western Sahara: Christopher Ross powerless

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While touring the Maghreb, the U.N. special envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, witnessed, Tuesday, the antipodal positions of Morocco and the Polisario on the issue of Western Sahara. Christopher Ross’ visit to the region couldn’t come at a more tensed moment. The Moroccan kingdom accuses Algeria of deliberately destroying the construction of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), while the Polisario Front strongly suspects a French “conspiracy” against Western Shara.

U.N. special envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, witnessed, Tuesday in Algiers, the level of “impasse” in the peace process between Morocco and the Polisario Front. After a series of visits to Rabat, Nouakchott, Algiers, and the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf, to push the Western Sahara agenda, the UN envoy noted that the positions of Morocco and the Polisario Front were too “far apart” despite their “willingness to continue the negotiation process”. The Manhasset negotiations, a series of talks that took place in four rounds in 2007-2008 at Manhasset, New York between the Moroccan government and the representatives of the Saharawi liberation movement, the Polisario Front, to resolve the Western Sahara conflict, have been unsuccessful.

An informal meeting, held last February in New York to prepare for the 5th round of formal negotiations, was also unfruitful. The meeting saw the Polisario Front insisting on self-determination for the Sahrawi people while Morocco remained inflexible in its quest for greater autonomy.

During his regional tour, Christopher Ross was able to measure the fissure that separates the Moroccans, on the one hand, and Sahrawi, represented by the Polissario Front, on the other. In Rabat, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI told the UN facilitator that the referendum option for Western Sahara had been “rejected for good”. In Tindouf, the leader of the exiled Sahrawi government, Mohamed Abdelaziz, urged the U.S. ambassador, Sunday, on the need for a referendum with several options, and a special focus on independence, the solution to which they remain committed.

Morocco rejects referendum

Christopher Ross’ visit comes at a time when tensions are fever high. Thursday, March 18th, while Ban Ki-moon’s personal envoy was visiting Morocco, the kingdom’s Communication Minister strongly criticized Algeria, the number one supporter of the Sahrawi cause, arguing that they had had brushed Morocco aside during a meeting on security in the Sahel which had taken place in Algiers. According to Le Quotidien Oran, an Algerian daily newspaper, the Minister particularly critical of Algeria for blocking the construction of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU).

Only 24 hours after his meeting with Christopher Ross, the Saharawi President Mohamed Abdelaziz violently condemned France for supporting the Moroccan autonomy plan. “The French government is orchestrating a serious plot that is likely to lead to a dangerous loss of control in the region,” he warned.

The Security Counci, which at the end of April is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), could consider extending the latter’s prerogatives on issues relating to human rights, following a motion made by the Saharawi President during his meeting with the UN envoy. Demonstrations by Sahrawi militants in Dakhla and El Aaiun on March 8 and 9, were violently suppressed by Moroccan authorities.

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