UN plans talks on Western Sahara before end of 2018
The UN envoy for Western Sahara is planning to convene talks before the end of the year between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front on ending their decades-old conflict, the Security Council president said on Wednesday. Horst Koehler, a former German president and ex-director of the International Monetary Fund, briefed the council behind closed doors on his efforts to restart talks after a 10-year break.
"There is a lot of support from the council for his approach and for his proposal to see if he can try to bring the parties together by the end of the year," said British Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Allen, whose country holds the council presidency this month. Koehler will be holding consultations with "all the parties involved" on "modalities, format and everything else," Allen told reporters after the meeting.
Morocco and the Polisario Front fought for control of Western Sahara from 1975 to 1991. Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict have been deadlocked since the last round of UN-sponsored talks in 2008.
The Conflict in Western Sahara – The Eternal Wait
For almost 50 years, the Sahrawi people have been waiting for a referendum that would give them the opportunity to decide for themselves over their future and their homeland, the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara. When Spain pulled out of the territory in 1976, the odds for Western Saharan independence looked good, until Morocco laid claim to the land and occupied two thirds of the territory, which it still holds today.
In an attempt to escape the Moroccan army, many Sahrawi fled over the border to Algeria, where they established refugee camps outside the city of Tindouf. They have since been waiting nearly forty years to return home. Laura Overmeyer visited the camps.
No movement in the Western Sahara conflict
Annexation and expulsion
Africa's "last colony"
A state for the desert people
Morocco's wall of land mines
Nostalgia for names
Making life possible
Coping with everyday life
An agonizing choice
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.
The Security Council in April approved a U.S.-drafted resolution that urged Morocco and the Polisario to prepare for talks, setting a six-month deadline for action. A council diplomat, who spoke on background, said the envoy was hoping to send invitations in September to the parties to attend talks – before the deadline expires in October.
A settlement in Western Sahara would allow the UN peacekeeping mission there, known as MINURSO, to end its mission at a time when the United States is seeking to reduce the cost of peace operations. (AFP)