UN chief asks Security Council to extend mandate of Western Sahara mission

Koehler’s intent to invite Algeria to the talks is likely to pressure Algiers into playing a more active role in resolving the conflict.
Sunday 07/10/2018
UN Envoy for the Western Sahara Horst Koehler (C) leaves following a meeting with Polisario Front negotiators on the outsksirts of Tindouf, last October. (AFP)
Thorny conflict. UN Envoy for the Western Sahara Horst Koehler (C) leaves following a meeting with Polisario Front negotiators on the outsksirts of Tindouf, last October. (AFP)

CASABLANCA - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked the UN Security Council to extend the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to give his envoy time “necessary to create conditions that will allow the political process to move forward.”

The Security Council in April extended MINURSO’s mandate through October 31 rather than one year. MINURSO was created in April 1991 following the UN-brokered ceasefire between Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front.

The Security Council approved a US-drafted resolution that urged the two warring parties to prepare for talks within the 6-month deadline.

“Maintaining peaceful and stable conditions on the ground is essential to promote a resumption of the political process,” Guterres said.

He stressed that MINURSO remained a key element to obtain a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution.

Guterres’s call to renew MINURSO’s mandate until October 31, 2019, came after Envoy Horst Koehler, invited Morocco and the Polisario Front, along with Algeria and Mauritania, to talks December 5-6 in Geneva to solve the Western Sahara conflict. He requested a response by October 20.

Guterres said Morocco and the Polisario Front agreed to “preliminary discussions,” adding he was confident about the responses expected from Algeria and Mauritania.

“We salute this step of the special envoy of the UN secretary-general for Western Sahara,” Mohammed Khadad, the Polisario Front’s coordinator with MINURSO, told Jeune Afrique. “This is good news.”

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita was not immediately available for comment. Bourita met with Guterres regarding the Western Sahara conflict on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

The most recent negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front were in 2012. The peace process has since stalled.

Koehler’s intent to invite Algeria to the talks is likely to pressure Algiers into playing a more active role in resolving the conflict, although Algeria denies any involvement in the dispute.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975 and maintains it is an integral part of the kingdom. The Polisario Front started an armed conflict in pursuit of an independent state, a confrontation that lasted until a UN-brokered a ceasefire in 1991.

Rabat has proposed a form of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty for the territory. The proposal was rejected by the Polisario Front, which insists on the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination in a UN-monitored vote.

Moroccan Prime Minister Saadeddine Othmani told the General Assembly that Western Sahara was a source of instability in North Africa and accused Algeria of fuelling the dispute.

Othmani recalled Morocco’s demand to allow as soon as possible the UN refugee agency to count the population of the Sahrawi refugee camps.

“We call on the international community to urge Algeria to assume its full responsibility by allowing UNHCR to register this population in accordance with Security Council resolutions and in response to the secretary-general’s appeals,” said Othmani.

Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel said at the General Assembly that his government backed UN efforts to restart talks on Western Sahara. He stressed that a solution must uphold the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination.

Koehler’s invitation came two days after US Congressmen Joe Wilson, Carlos Curbelo and Gerry Connolly introduced a bill in the US House of Representatives that affirms the relationship between the United States and Morocco while condemning recent actions by the Polisario Front.

“The kingdom of Morocco was the first country to recognise the United States in 1777 and remains an important strategic ally and partner for peace in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Wilson.

“The terrorist regime in Iran has been funding attacks against Morocco by the Polisario Front and it is time for the United Nations to promote a peaceful resolution to this Western Sahara conflict,” he added.

The bill warns that the lack of resolution to the conflict inhibits regional security and economic prosperity in North Africa. It says that the efforts Iran and Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah to maintain influence in North Africa runs counter to the national security objectives of the United States.

If the bill becomes law, it would boost Morocco’s position on the Western Sahara conflict and support Rabat’s autonomy plan.

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