PUSL.- UN envoy Horst Köhler called on Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania for an “initial roundtable” on Wednesday and Thursday (5 and 6) in Geneva to negotiations on the territory of Western Sahara. This will be the first meeting since 2012.
In the invitation letter of Horst Köhler, one can read that “It is time to start a new chapter in the political process”. The current UN Secretary-General’s personal envoy, António Guterres, says he wants to find a way out for the last territory of the African continent that lacks post-colonial status and is therefore on the list of non-autonomous territories of the UN.
The Polisario Front, which in 1976 proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) over the 266,000 km2 of that desert territory, claims respect for the 1991 cease-fire agreement that provides for the holding of a referendum on self-determination. This referendum was envisaged by the United Nations in the settlement of the conflict which arose after the Spanish settlers left in 1975 when Morocco invaded and annexed and occupied Western Sahara and initiated the genocide of the civilian population which included bombing civilians with white phosphorus and Napalm.
Morocco now controls 80% of Western Sahara, an area of about 1,000 kilometers of the Atlantic coast with abundant fisheries and a subsoil rich in phosphates and other minerals. The Moroccan settlers in the territory are attracted with salaries and perks superior to that offered in the Kingdom of Morocco and are encouraged to act as an extension of the forces of occupation and repression on the Saharawi population.
Rabat, which never respected the basis of the cease-fire which it signed in 1991 and which continues to violate the human rights of the Saharawi population, rejects any solution other than that of the territory administered as an autonomy under its sovereignty.
Hundreds of thousands of Saharawi refugees live in camps near the Algerian town of Tindouf, 1,800 km southwest of Algiers, near the border with Morocco since 1975, in the midst of an inhospitable desert.
Promoted by the UN, the last round of negotiations was in March 2012 and led to a stagnation due to Morocco’s intransigence in complying with the proposal it signed in 1991, despite successive concessions from the Polisario Front, the legitimate representative of the Saharawi people to the UN and international institutions.
Named special envoy in 2017, former German President Horst Köhler has already met several times separately with the two sides of the conflict, Morocco and the Polisario Front, as well as with Spain who continues to be the in-jure administrator of the territory and the neighboring Mauritania and Algeria.
Koeher’s efforts will now be discussed at the negotiating table by Morocco and the Polisario Front, as well as by Algeria and Mauritania, which will participate as “observer countries”. Morocco refuses to recognize the Polisario Front and continues its campaign of propoganda stating that the conflict is with Algeria and therefore considers its neighbor an “active part” of the discussions and not as “observer”.
In a note released by the UN this meeting is presented as the “first step of a renewed negotiating process” towards a “just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution that will allow the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.” The working agenda of this meeting consists of discussing and analyzing the “current situation, regional integration and next steps of the political process”. Koehler thus intends not to put “too much pressure and expectations” in this first session, which is expected to unlock the political stagnation of the process. The repeated declarations of Morocco however are clear “our plan of autonomy or nothing”.