Western Sahara: What's after breaking the ice?

By: Deich Mohamed Saleh

By the appointment of Ambassador John Bolton as Trump's National Security Adviser and declaring the new US strategy in Africa, it was clear that the US appears firm to break the stalemate and find prompt solution to the forgotten conflict of Western Sahara, as the man has long experience in dealing with the matter. The US direct contribution, through John Bolton, was crucial in pushing the two parties, Polisario front and Morocco, to return to the table of negotiations. Even the Kohler’s  momentum would not have had success without the US pressure on both the parties for more cooperation and on the UNSC members to support the Special Envoy.

But unfortunately, France supports Morocco's illegal occupation of Western Sahara and has been attempting to abort that hope.  It is disturbed by the US's new vision towards  Africa and its implication to arrange the situation in north Africa.  France fears of US support to self-determination as that would destroy its plans in maintaining these region under the old-fashion policy of domination. MINURSO's mandate of six months was against its will. It opposed including human rights monitoring in the mandate of the UN mission while the people in the occupied territories of Western Sahara are facing systematic repression by the Moroccan police and army forces. It also encouraged illegal exportation and exploitation of the natural resources of the territory of Western Sahara by involving the EU to sign accords with Morocco including the territory. It objects any role of the AU on the peace process as the bloc has asserted its crucial contribution in resolving the question. Ultimately, France's method of obstructions was behind Horst Kohler's quit last May.

Kohler's resignation returned back the ball to the UNSC goal, putting its credibility  at stake again and the future of the conflict in the dark. The US is the one which has to respond on the fact  that made the Council takes the stick from the middle again, as it has started an optimistic process which should reach its end!

The question of the non-self-governing of Western Sahara is on the UN agenda since 1963 and the conflict dates back to Spanish colonization. Spain left down its promise of the process of decolonization in 1975 with complicity of France , to allow Morocco to invade the territory despite of the UN and the OAU(AU now) calls. After 16 years of war, the Kingdom  of Morocco signed in 1991 the UN-OAU Settlement Plan for referendum of self-determination. Now it rejects the referendum after being convinced that it leads to the independence of the Territory. The Polisario Front (Frente Polular  para la liberación de Sagui el Hamra y Río Oro) has fought for the right of the people of Western to self-determination.

The UNSC double-standards in dealing with the question of the non-self-governing territory of western Sahara would not thread the needle!. Around 28 years of examining the positions of both parties of the conflict (the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco) and of the UN Mission on the ground are sufficient to know which party obstructs the  efforts of International  Community!. How the UNSC allows to any kind of manipulation of a UN fundamental principle of peoples’ right to self-determination? Why is the UNSC blind to the crime against humanity committed by the Kingdom of Morocco while enjoying the sweet taste of plundering natural resources of the territory?

The Polisario Front has made the maximum concessions in order to create atmosphere for negotiations and to show goodwill in ending the conflict. It remained committed to the ceasefire and released all Moroccan prisoners of war. The people of Western  Sahara  endured living in harsh conditions in the exile, under repression in the occupied territories and in diaspora just because they have trusted in the International Community to carry out its promise of a fair and just solution. Saharawi Army for Liberation maintained the liberated territories of western Sahara always safe and stable and under control  despite Moroccan attempts of destabilizing the area by promoting drug trafficking .

On contrary, the Kingdom of Morocco rejects the referendum of self-determination. Morocco has been imposing tight siege on the occupied territories since its invasion of Western Sahara, where the saharawi citizens are subjected to daily suppression, intimidation and lack of free expression. Foreign observers  and media are banned from contacting with the people and they are exposed to expel for this reason. Hundreds of saharawi civilians and soldiers are still disappeared and scores  are in jail because of their political expression, some of them for life. Morocco challenged the UNSC by expelling the civil component of the UN Mission of MINURSO and consequently , its troops got out the berm in violation to the ceasefire agreement, in attempt to occupy Guerguerat an La Guera region. A 2700km-berm (sand wall) is dividing the territory, depriving  families from seeing each other, even the exchange of visits between families sponsored by UNHCR have  blocked by Morocco government since April 2014. Morocco is carrying out an unprecedented looting of the territory’s natural resources which some of its revenues directed to international lobbying groups to defend its claims of the territory.

There is great discontent among Saharawis about the lack of progress on the part of the UN to end their suffering. They accuse the UN Mission of instead of helping them in getting their legitimate right to self-determination and independence it connives with Morocco to extend the illegal occupation of their homeland. The Resumption of the armed struggle will be on the top of the agenda of the upcoming fifteenth Polisario Front's Congress which is convening by the end of this year. The participants will review the Polisario cooperation with the UN in case that it fails in achieving a just solution to the conflict based on the respect of the inalienable right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination and independence.

The UNSC should proceed from the fact of coexistence of both the Saharawi Republic and the Kingdom of Morocco in the AU for just and durable solution of the Question of Western Sahara. By signing the AU Constitutive Act, Morocco pledged to respect the Saharawi Republic's borders internationally recognized. The Saharawi Republic is a full member of the AU and one of its founder states, therefore, its joining to the OAU ( now AU) was a consequence of Morocco's rejection of the Africans’ calls on organizing a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara. The transfer of issue of Western  Sahara to the UN does not mean that the AU's decisions were wrong, but for concerting the efforts of both organizations to enable the people of Western Sahara to determine their own fate according to the UN Charter and Resolutions.

Peace, Maghreb integration and Sahel stability depend on a just solution to the Western Sahara issue based on the people’s right to self-determination and independence. If the UNSC is really concerned about peace and stability in the Maghreb and Sahel, it should give an end to the  Moroccan and French maneuvers to maintain the stalemate for ever. The UNSC should look to the future with new vision  that can guarantee peace and stability. Therefore, the  Saharawi Republic is able to play pivot role in the geopolitics and guarantee all international stakeholders interests.

Cheij Mohamed Saleh

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