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UN Secretary General calls for resumption of political process on Western Sahara

Written by Eric Apim on Tuesday, October 5th 2021 à 15:40 | Read 825 times

UN Secretary General calls for resumption of political process on Western Sahara
WESTERN SAHARA. In his annual report on the situation in Western Sahara from 1 September 2020 to 31 August 2021, Antonio Guterres regrets a "greatly deteriorated situation" over the past year. The UN Secretary General attributes this to "the resumption of hostilities between Morocco and the Polisario Front", a movement that campaigns for the independence of this region defined in 1963 by the UN as a "non-autonomous territory", but considered as a Moroccan province by Rabat.

 In this document, submitted to the Security Council on Sunday 3 October 2021, Antonio Guterres indicates that "there remains a clear risk of escalation as long as hostilities persist". Although the conflict has existed since the Spanish abandoned their colony in 1976, the events have recently become more frequent: increasing incidents between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan army since mid-November 2020, a worrying declaration by the Polisario Front announcing that it no longer felt committed to the ceasefire in force since 1991, the recognition by the United States of Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara   in December 2020, and finally, most recently, the breakdown of relations between Algeria (a supporter of the Polisario Front) and Morocco, mainly because of Rabat's positions on the territory.

Declaring himself "deeply concerned", the UN chief considers all this as a "major setback towards the achievement of a political solution. (...) the resumption of a political process is all the more urgent". Another factor mentioned was the Covid 19 pandemic crisis.

Polisario Front victory over Morocco-EU agreements

On Wednesday 29 September 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) annulled, in the first instance, two trade partnership agreements between Morocco and the European Union signed in 2019 on the grounds that they included Western Sahara. The Polisario Front had seized this jurisdiction to protest against the non-consultation of the Saharawi people on the subject despite, in particular, a provision providing for preferential tariffs for the entry of agricultural and fishing products from their territory. But also, another one including the waters adjacent to Western Sahara in a text allowing 128 European vessels access for four years to the fishing zones of Moroccan Atlantic waters.

Already in February 2018, the same CJEU ruled that "the fisheries agreement concluded between the EU and Morocco is valid insofar as it is not applicable to Western Sahara and the waters adjacent to it". The Court stressed that "the inclusion of the territory of Western Sahara in the scope of the fisheries agreement would infringe several rules of general international law applicable in relations between the Union and the Kingdom of Morocco, in particular the principle of self-determination". Morocco controls 80% of this territory of 266,000 km² and 603,000 inhabitants and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), through its political and armed wing the Polisario Front, the remaining 20%.

Still no UN special envoy

All these disputes have "considerably altered the operational environment of Minurso, limiting the mission's ability to carry out its mandate," said Antonio Guterres in his report. The UN force, set up in April 1991 to prepare a referendum on self-determination, is currently without a leader, since the resignation in May 2019 of Horst Köhler. The personalities proposed by the UN for this post have all been rejected by either Morocco or the Polisario Front.

The Secretary General called on the different parties to agree on the appointment of a UN envoy, also head of Minurso, to relaunch the dialogue. "It is essential to have a special envoy to relaunch the political dialogue on Western Sahara," Guterres insisted.

The Western Sahara issue will be on the agenda of the UN Security Council in October 2021, especially since the body will have to decide, through a resolution, on the extension of the mandate of Minurso, which ends on 31 October 2021. The Secretary General recommends a new one-year term. With a budget of $60.9 million (€52.4 million), Minurso employs 469 people including 230 civilians.

Read also our special report on Western Sahara in three parts

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