Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Algeria calls for direct negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Tuesday, September 6th 2022 à 14:50 | Read 370 times

Staffan de Mistura met Ramtane Lamamra at the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (photo: Algerian MFA)
Staffan de Mistura met Ramtane Lamamra at the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (photo: Algerian MFA)
WESTERN SAHARA. After a visit to the camps of Tindouf (Algeria) followed by a meeting with leaders of the Polisario Front, including a private meeting with Brahim Ghali, its Secretary General, Staffan De Mistura was received, Monday, September 5, 2022 in Algiers, by Ramtane Lamamra, Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, in the presence of Amar Belani, special envoy in charge of the issue of Western Sahara and the Maghreb countries.

Appointed in November 2021, the UN Secretary General's personal envoy for Western Sahara will present a report on this tour in October 2022 at a Security Council meeting. He will also build on his previous mission to Rabat in July 2022, which did not allow him to go to Western Sahara.

Staffan de Mistura will also go to Mauritania on September 10, 2022, seeking to conduct "consultations with all parties concerned with a view to achieving constructive progress in the political process in Western Sahara," his office said.

The history of Western Sahara in a few key dates
1884: Western Sahara becomes a Spanish colony
1912: Beginning of the French Protectorate in Morocco and the Spanish sub-protectorate in Morocco in the north of the country and in the Saharan territories of Tarfaya and Rio de Oro
1956: Proclamation of the independence of Morocco and end of the Spanish Protectorate in the north of the country
1958: Transfer of the territory of Tarfaya to Morocco by the Spaniards, followed by the creation of the Spanish Sahara (with Rio de Oro and Saguia el-Hamra)
1963: War of the Sands between Morocco and Algeria following border incidents
1964: Cease-fire
1969: Cession by the Spaniards of the enclave of Ifni
1975: Spain ceased its protectorate in Morocco, which it exercised with France
1976: Self-proclamation of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) by the Polisario Front
March 1976: Algeria recognizes the SADR
1991: Cease-fire declared under the aegis of the United Nations with a pseudo border defined.
2007: Morocco proposes a "broad autonomy" plan, refused by the Polisario Front

The UN wants negotiations to resume

Since the reversal in March 2022 of Spain's position on the future of its former colony and its support for the Moroccan autonomy initiative presented in 2007, the situation has changed. It concluded with the official resumption of diplomatic relations between the two kingdoms in April 2022.

Solutions to this five-decade-old conflict (see box above) can no longer be found through Madrid, according to both Saharawi and Algerian interlocutors of Staffan de Mistura. The Polisario Front's representative to the United Nations in New York, Sidi Mohamed Omar, said on Sunday, September 4, 2022: "Because of the positions recently taken by the current Spanish government, the Kingdom of Spain has gone from being an actor that can contribute positively to the resolution of the conflict to an actor that has created more problems for the decolonization process of Western Sahara. However, he said that his movement is "ready to cooperate with the UN and its envoy for this purpose.

Discussions between Staffan de Mistura and Ramtane Lamamra focused on the prospects for resuming negotiations with the support of the UN. Algiers wants them to be direct between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front "with the aim of achieving a just, lasting and mutually accepted political solution, guaranteeing the Sahrawi people the exercise of its inalienable and imprescriptible right to self-determination, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the UN and its doctrine on decolonization," as stated in a statement by the Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It rejects the principle of "round tables" already organized, without success, between Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania in Geneva in 2018 and 2019 after a UN resolution. A formula "counterproductive" for the Algerian government, but plebiscited by its Moroccan counterpart.

An "imprescriptible" right to self-determination

The ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario Front signed in 1991 was broken in November 2020 with exchanges of fire between Moroccan troops and the Western Sahara liberation movement.
Rabat is offering Western Sahara a broad autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty (see box below). For the president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sanchez, this is the "most serious, credible and realistic" solution. This is also the opinion of several capitals, including Washington.

The Polisario Front, supported in this sense by Algeria, which unilaterally ceased all diplomatic relations with Morocco at the end of August 2021, is calling for a referendum on the independence of the Saharawi people. This solution has been planned since 1991 and the signing of the ceasefire between the two parties. The UN has failed, so far, to implement it. For Algiers, this right to self-determination is "imprescriptible. Tunisia has also been at odds with Morocco since its president, Kaïs Saïed, received Brahim Ghali at the end of August 2022, on the sidelines of the Japan-Africa economic summit held in Tunis.

Morocco controls 80% of this region which, according to the UN, has the status of a non-autonomous territory. The resolution of this conflict is among the priorities set by Antonio Guterres in January 2022 in his speech to the UN General Assembly, following a first visit of Staffan de Mistura to Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania. "In a region of the world where we see extremely serious security problems, where we see terrorism multiplying in the Sahel and increasingly near the coasts, it is in everyone's interest to resolve this Western Sahara issue once and for all," he added, adding, "I am hopeful that the political process will resume once again."

The talks have been stalled since spring 2019.

Read our three-part survey on Western Sahara

What Morocco proposes for Western Sahara

The autonomy plan, specifically the "Moroccan initiative for the negotiation of an autonomy statute for the Sahara region", was unveiled on April 11, 2007 in New York by El Mostapha Sahel, Morocco's ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations, to the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

It provides for the Sahara Autonomous Region (SAR) a government invested by the King, but previously elected by the Parliament of the Region (local assembly). This executive and legislative will have exclusive powers, particularly in fiscal matters to finance the development of the SAR, but will remain under Moroccan sovereignty (flag, currency ...).

The Western Sahara is rich in resources, especially fisheries, but also phosphate deposits and rare minerals not yet exploited, and even oil. Not to mention the potential for wind and solar energy. The draft text identifies the revenues from the exploitation of natural resources that will be allocated to the SAR, those that will go to the State and the revenues from the Region's assets.

The Cherifian Kingdom would retain its powers in sovereign areas, such as defense, foreign relations (although the State undertakes to consult the SAR on matters concerning the region) and the constitutional and religious powers of the King.

The Polisario Front is calling for a referendum on self-determination. It is planned, under the control of UN peacekeepers (Minurso) since the 1991 ceasefire, but has never been implemented, as the Sahrawis and Moroccans could not agree on the composition of the electorate.

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