UN Security Council Backs Western Sahara Talks
The UN Security Council on Friday backed a United States-drafted resolution that urges Morocco and the Polisario Front to prepare for talks on settling the decades-old conflict over Western Sahara.
The council renewed for six months the mandate of a UN mission that has been monitoring a ceasefire in Western Sahara since 1991 and spelled out steps for a return to negotiations.
China, Russia and Ethiopia abstained from the vote, but it passed with support from all 12 other countries in the council.
“The expectation is clear,” US political coordinator Amy Tachco told the council after the vote. “It is time to see progress toward a political solution and after 27 years, to stop perpetuating the status quo.”
Morocco and the Polisario fought for control of Western Sahara from 1975 to 1991, but diplomatic efforts to end the conflict have been deadlocked since the last round of UN-sponsored talks in 2008.
The adoption followed a week of contentious negotiations during which Russia and Ethiopia complained that the proposed measure appeared to favor Morocco’s stance.
Russian Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told the council that the resolution was “unbalanced” adding: “let’s not decide in the place of the sides what the outcome will be” of a new round of talks.
Morocco maintains that negotiations on a settlement should focus on its proposal for autonomy for Western Sahara and rejects the Polisario’s insistence on an independence referendum.
Tachco told the council that Morocco’s autonomy proposal is “one potential approach to satisfy the aspirations of the people of Western Sahara to run their own affairs with peace and dignity.”
Need for compromise
While the resolution does not set a timetable for relaunching talks, it stresses “the need to make progress toward a realistic, practicable and enduring political solution to the question of Western Sahara based on compromise”.
Following complaints, the United States agreed to extend the MINURSO mission until October instead of a full year, giving the council an opportunity to review the situation in six months and decide on next steps.
The resolution renews a call for the Polisario to withdraw from Guerguerat, an area in a buffer zone in the southwest near the Mauritanian border, and to refrain from relocating offices to Bir Lahlou, in the northwest.
In a bid to quell tensions in the buffer zone, the council requested that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres step in to “interview the parties” to discuss the military agreements underpinning the ceasefire.
Guterres last year appointed former German president and ex-International Monetary Fund director Horst Koehler to be his new envoy for Western Sahara with a mandate to restart negotiations.
Koehler is expected to embark on a new regional tour soon to press for negotiations, which some diplomats say could happen later this year.
The Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), declared by the Polisario in 1976, is a full member of the African Union.
The mostly desert territory has rich fishing grounds off its coast and may have untapped offshore oil deposits.