Stalemate on future of Western Sahara – UN

The 36-year dispute between Saharan nationalists and Morocco over Morocco’s occupation of the mineral-rich Western Sahara region is at a stalemate, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has told the Security Council, which on Tuesday will discuss the future of its peacekeeping mission there.
The Moroccan government and Polisario Front rebels have held nine rounds of informal talks since 2007 that achieved nothing except agreement to hold more talks, the UN chief said in his report.
Morocco has occupied Western Sahara since invading in 1976 and annexing the territory in 1979. Morocco has proposed wide-ranging autonomy for the region, but the pro-independence Polisario Front insists on the « inalienable right » of the people of the former Spanish colony to self-determination through a referendum on the territory’s future.
Morocco consolidated control of the region in the 1980s by building a 1,700-mile (2,735-kilometer) sand berm through the desert dividing it from neighboring Algeria and Mauritania. Morocco and the Polisario Front signed a cease-fire in 1991.
The United Nations is supposed to be helping the Western Saharans prepare for an often-postponed vote on self-determination, with assistance from a UN peacekeeping force of about 230 military personnel, known as MINURSO.
But the UN chief’s report said Moroccan interference has undermined the peacekeeping force’s appearance of independence.
« Access to external contacts is controlled » by Morocco in Western Sahara, inhibiting anyone from freely contacting the UN peacekeepers, the report said.
« Moroccan police presence outside the (UN) compound discourages visitors from approaching MINURSO in an independent capacity, » Ban wrote.
He also raised the possibility of Moroccan eavesdropping: « There were also indications that the confidentiality of communications between MINURSO headquarters and New York was, at least on occasion, compromised. »
Ban said that it was clear that « MINURSO is unable to exercise fully its peacekeeping monitoring, observation and reporting functions. »
In a letter to the Security Council, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa director, Sarah Leah Watson, has pointed out that « MINURSO is one of the rare UN peacekeeping operations that does not include a human rights monitoring component. »
Morocco’s UN Mission said Moroccan Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki would have no comment on the report before the Security Council considered it Tuesday. Morocco is currently a member of the council.
Despite these issues, Ban has asked the Security Council to keep MINURSO in place and add 15 military observers in the hope that Morocco and the Polisario Front show some willingness to compromise.
Business Live, 17 APRIL 2012