- Title: WESTERN SAHARA: Tension mounts in disputed Western Sahara ahead of UN meeting
- Date: 16th April 2009
- Summary: BIR GUENDOUZ, BORDER OF WESTERN SAHARA AND MAURITANIA (FILE) (REUTERS) AERIAL VIEW OF BIR GUENDOUZ VARIOUS OF SAHRAWI REFUGEES WHO RETURNED TO MOROCCAN-CONTROLLED WESTERN SAHARA VIA MAURITANIA GROUP OF SAHRAWI MOTHERS WITH THEIR CHILDREN WOMAN WHO RETURNED FROM THE POLISARIO CAMPS
- Embargoed: 1st May 2009 13:00
- Location: Western Sahara
- Country: Western Sahara
- Topics: International Relations,Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA7LVM0XZT1MSJFA3PAC03L8M3E
- Story Text: Tensions between Morocco and Western Sahara's Algerian-backed Polisario independence movement have been escalating recently, as Rabat and Polisario exchange accusations of breaching the U.N.-supervised military truce in the Moroccan-annexed territory.
Morocco has accused Algeria and the Polisario Front of organising a violent demonstration to scuttle efforts to forge a peaceful solution to Africa's longest running territorial dispute before the United Nations Security Council discusses the dispute on April 21. Polisario denied the allegation, saying the protest was peaceful.
U.N.-mediated talks over the phosphate-rich former Spanish colony, abandoned by Madrid in 1975 and then annexed by Morocco, began two years ago.
But the talks have been deadlocked over whether Western Sahara should be an autonomous part of Morocco, as Rabat proposes, or hold a referendum on whether to declare independence, as Western Sahara's Polisario wants.
As the U.N. envoy to Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, prepares to submit his first report to the Security Council on the future of the disputed territory, Sahrawis say direct talks between Morocco and Algeria are the only solution.
In Laayoune, the main city of the Moroccan controlled Western Sahara, Dahi Aguai who chairs an association that caters for Sahrawis, who were alleged victims of Polisario tortures and disappearances since 1974, says there can be no solution to the Western Sahara dispute without an agreement between Morocco and Algeria.
"Without an understanding between Algeria and Morocco based on safeguarding the interests of both countries and without admitting the mistakes made by both sides and without sitting at the same table to agree on a strategy to reach a common goal, there is no way to reach a solution to the conflict," Aguai said.
The Polisario Front independence movement has disputed Morocco's claim to the territory since the North African kingdom annexed it after the withdrawal of the Spanish in the mid-1970s.
Many Sahrawis in the Laayoune welcomed the idea of self rule to resolve the long standing conflict which tore apart families for more than three decades. Nabba El Moussaoui, who lived in refugee camps in Tindouf in the southwest Algerian desert, returned to Western Sahara last year with a group of 105 Sahrawis.
Tindouf became the capital of the Western Saharan government-in-exile after Morocco's invasion of what was then the Spanish Sahara in 1975 and 1976.
For more than three decades, it has been home to thousands of Sahrawi refugees.
"Only self-rule can solve this conflict. This is why we ask the UN Security Council to put pressure on the Polisario Front and also on the Algerian government to leave these people alone, who have been separated for 33 years. Only self-rule can unite these people. It is in our best interests and that is why we ask for it," El Moussaoui said in Laayoune.
Under the auspices of the United Nations, Morocco and the Polisario Front held four rounds of negotiations in Manhasset, New York in the United States but this process stopped in March 2007 when it was thought that no progress was made and that both parties were not ready to compromise.
On Tuesday (April 14), U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Security Council to press Morocco and Polisario to resume negotiations on the future of the Western Sahara.
In his latest report to the Security Council, Ban said that "little has changed" since the last unsuccessful round of talks between the two sides last year, though Polisario and Moroccan negotiators had indicated they would be willing to meet informally to explore how formal talks could be resumed.
Ban also asked the 15-nation Security Council to extend the mandate of a military observer mission to Western Sahara, known as MINURSO (United Nations for the Referendum in the Western Sahara), for another year until April 30, 2010.
Although its mission is to monitor a ceasefire, the UN's military presence in the area is regarded by some Western countries as an insurance policy against the mounting threats posed by arms, human and drug traffickers crossing the Algerian, Mauritanian and Moroccan borders. Many migrants from sub-Saharan Africa cross these borders to try and get to Spain.
Ibrahim Laghzal, member of the Royal Consultative Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS) and a human rights activist, warned of a growing human, drugs and arms trafficking in the border area which put many Sahrawis at risk.
"There is a huge bill we are paying here on a daily basis and it is costing us a lot. There is a huge security risk in this area and its actors are Sahrawis who are now involved in human trafficking inside the camps, in Zouierat and in Mauritania. They are now involved in some very dangerous trafficking networks," he said.
In its former resolutions, the U.N. Security Council has called for talks "without preconditions and in good faith" between the parties to achieve "a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution", and it is likely that the Council will renew its plea after debating Christopher Ross's report.
Ross is due to submit his first report to the Security Council soon following his tour last February in North Africa and Europe to launch a new round of negotiations over the territory.
Ross's tour took him from Rabat to Tindouf in the southwest Algerian desert, for talks with Polisario chief Mohamed Abdelaziz, and then to Algiers.
Ross, a former US ambassador to Syria and Algeria, then went to Madrid and Paris, capitals of two countries belonging to the Group of Friends of Western Sahara. The group also includes Russia, Britain and the United States.
- Copyright Holder: FILE REUTERS (CAN SELL)
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