Global Policy Forum

UN Security Council Extends Peacekeepers Mandate

Associated Press
November 1, 2007

The U.N. Security Council has called for "substantive negotiations" between Morocco and Polisario Front rebels on the future of Western Sahara to resolve the decades-old dispute. In a resolution Wednesday that extends the 225 member U.N. Mission in Western Sahara until April 30, 2008, the council said the two sides should keep negotiating "without preconditions and in good faith ... with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara."

Morocco has proposed limited autonomy for Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty. The Polisario Front has demanded a referendum with a choice of autonomy or independence for the Saharawi people, who live in the desert region in northwestern Africa. Morocco and the Polisario Front agreed to meet for their first direct talks in seven years after the Security Council adopted a resolution in April urging the two sides to come together. The two sides have held two rounds of talks — which U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said did not produce any visible progress. They agreed to a third round but no date has been set.

Morocco and Mauritania split Western Sahara after its Spanish colonizers left the territory in 1975. Full-scale war broke out the following year, and Morocco took over the whole of Western Sahara after Mauritania pulled out in 1979. The fighting, which pitted 15,000 Polisario guerrillas against Morocco's U.S.-equipped army, ended in 1991 with a U.N.-negotiated cease-fire that called for a referendum on the region's future. But the vote has never happened. After 15 years and more than US$600 million (€415 million), the U.N. has been unable to resolve the standoff between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan government.

South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo said Wednesday his government continues "to be amazed by the relentless attempt" by some council members to describe Morocco's autonomy proposal as "a serious and credible effort" to move forward on resolving the dispute. The Moroccan proposal, Kumalo said, is "a unilateral attempt" to convince the Sarhawi people to abandon their right to self-determination. While Kumalo didn't name any countries, the United States and France have publicly supported the Moroccan proposal. Kumalo stressed that the only solution is a negotiated settlement that considers both Morocco's proposal and the Polisario call for a referendum which offers a choice of independence or autonomy. He also criticized some Security Council members for refusing in the resolution to welcome the secretary-general's recent report on Western Sahara or mention Ban's call for the human rights of the people of Western Sahara to be respected.

Khadad Mhamed, a member of the Polisario leadership, welcomed the Security Council resolution, stressing that it reaffirms the right to self-determination of the Sahrawi people "as the only basis and aim of any political solution to the conflict of Western Sahara." Despite what he called "the maneuvers deployed by Morocco," Mhamed said the council reaffirmed that there are two proposals that should be treated equally in the negotiation process. The Polisario Front remains ready to participate in new negotiations and hopes the Moroccan side will engage in a serious manner "with a view to reaching the political solution that will provide for the exercise by the Sahrawi people of their right to self-determination," Mhamed said.

More Information on the UN Security Council
More Information on Western Sahara
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More Information on The Secretary General: Ban Ki-Moon


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