Global Policy Forum

W. Sahara Independence Movement to Review Strategy


By Hamid Ould Ahmed

December 5, 2007

Western Sahara's independence movement Polisario said on Wednesday it was committed to a peaceful end to Africa's oldest territorial dispute but would consider returning to arms at its congress this month. International peacekeepers have kept watch over the resource-rich desert territory since 1991 when the United Nations brokered a ceasefire to end a low-level guerrilla war between Morocco and Polisario.

The fighting broke out in 1975 when colonial power Spain withdrew from Western Sahara and Morocco annexed the northwest African territory rich in phosphates, fisheries and, potentially, oil. "Two main options will be proposed to the congress -- should we pursue peace talks or resume armed struggle to speed up the process?" said Mohamed Beissat, ambassador to Algeria of the self-proclaimed government for Western Sahara (SADR).

Delegates at the congress, due to take place on Dec. 14-16 in the isolated, Polisario-controlled outpost of Tifariti, will look for ways to convince other countries to put more pressure on Morocco, said Beissat. "It (the congress) will be an opportunity for us to voice our aspirations," he said. "The Moroccan reticence pushes us to intensify our international campaign." The congress is held every three to four years.

In two rounds of U.N.-sponsored peace talks this year, the United States and France lent strong backing to a Moroccan proposal to offer limited autonomy for Western Sahara but not outright independence. A rival plan from Polisario proposed a referendum with independence as one option. The U.N. Security Council has exhorted the two sides to put more effort into finding a solution and Beissat said Polisario had agreed to take part in a third round of peace talks set for Jan. 7-9 in Manhasset near New York.

"We continue to show good political will as we have done before," he said. No country officially recognises Morocco's rule over Western Sahara but the U.N. Security Council is divided over a solution, with some nonaligned states supporting Polisario but France and the United States leaning towards Morocco.

Washington wants the Sahara dispute settled so North African countries can focus on fighting terrorism. Morocco says independence would be unworkable as ethnic Sahrawis are spread across four states and a referendum is impossible to organise.

More Information on the UN Security Council
More Information on Western Sahara
More Information on Peacekeeping


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