UN deals blow to AU’s approach on Western Sahara
Casablanca - The UN Security Council has dealt a heavy blow to African Union recommendations for changes to the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in the disputed North African territory of Western Sahara.
The Security Council unanimously extended the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) — a peacekeeping force — in mineral-rich Western Sahara through April 30, 2016.
Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975, prompting the Polisario Front independence movement to wage a guerrilla war for a separate state. That lasted until 1991 when the United Nations brokered a ceasefire and sent in MINURSO.
Moroccan Ambassador to the United Nations Omar Hilale welcomed Resolution 2218, saying that it “confirms for the ninth consecutive year the pre-eminence of the Moroccan autonomy initiative and Morocco’s credible and serious efforts to settle this regional conflict which has lasted too long”.
Polisario has complained about Western firms prospecting for natural resources based on permits issued by Morocco but Hilale defended the North African country against accusations of exploitation of Western Sahara’s natural resources. The disputed territory is rich in phosphates and potentially offshore oil and natural gas.
“The exploitation is legal,” Hilale said April 28th at a news conference following the adoption of the UN resolution.
“When Morocco recovered its southern provinces, there were only two small villages of Laayoune and Dakhla. There was no electricity, no water, no schools, let alone hospitals and a little population because of its nomadic nature, “he added.
“Today, Sahara is made up of large cities, many ports and industries and Dakhla is an unavoidable international tourist destination,” said Hilale, highlighting Morocco’s multi-billion-dollar investments in the southern provinces during the last 40 years.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that Western Sahara continued to benefit from considerable public investment.
Hilale dismissed a call by the African Union for MINURSO to monitor human rights in Western Sahara, calling its position “biased”.
Morocco withdrew from the African Union in 1984 when the bloc recognised the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic proclaimed by the Polisario Front.
The African Union wanted the resolution to explicitly state that MINURSO’s job is to organise a referendum. However, Rabat rejected calls for MINURSO to conduct human rights monitoring, saying the African Union has no right to interfere in the long-standing issue.
The Moroccan kingdom insists that the disputed territory should have autonomy, not independence, a position rejected by Polisario.
Meanwhile, the Security Council welcomed Morocco’s efforts and achievements in human rights development and renewed its confidence in national institutions, particularly the National Council on Human Rights, known by its French initials CNDH, and its role in the promotion and protection of human rights.
Elhannouchi Abderrazzak, a top CNDH official, told The Arab Weekly that the resolution consolidated the efforts of national human rights organisations in defending Sahrawis’ rights in the region and Morocco’s openness to UN human rights bodies.
A political solution to the longstanding issue is needed more than ever due to the growing threat by extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, in the Sahara and the Sahel regions.
“Forty years after the start of this conflict, it is clear that the status quo is simply not sustainable,” British Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Peter Wilson told the Security Council.
Wilson repeated Ban’s recent warning that the lack of a political solution on Western Sahara could have regional repercussions amid a growing extremist threat in the region.
“The United Nations is now linking a solution to the Western Sahara issue with the geopolitical landscape in the region which is witnessing a fragile security situation because of a growing terrorist threat, especially in the Sahel,” said Abderrazzak.