October 2006 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 September 2006
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Western Sahara

Expected Council Action
The Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which expires on 31 October. Referred to in the Secretary-General’s report of 19 April (S/2006/249), the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy to Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum, on a political solution are still on the table and may be reiterated in the upcoming report. However, given the other pressures on the Council’s time at present, major new developments seem unlikely.

Key Recent Developments
In the last six months, there has been no progress toward the resumption of negotiations between the parties on the status of Western Sahara. (Please see our Update Report of 17 May on Western Sahara for more details about the new approach by the Secretary-General, the reaction of the parties and the last Security Council action.)

The Secretary-General, in a letter addressed to the president of the Security Council in June, recalled that the temptation to consider the status quo as a more tolerable approach than any possible solution should not guide the behaviour of the Council. He mentioned that, although resolution 1675 did not refer to his recommendations with regard to the political process, several Council members had emphasised the necessity that the parties work to end the impasse over the next six months. The Secretary-General also hinted that the Council should avoid approving once again a purely technical rollover in October.

Some members of the Group of Friends of Western Sahara (which is comprised of France, Russia, Spain, the UK and the US) have been in touch on a bilateral basis with the parties urging them to resume direct negotiations without preconditions. 

Peter van Walsum recently toured the region. He went to Rabat, Tindouf and Nouakchott. He met with officials of some members of the Group of Friends in Paris, Madrid and Washington. He also met with Algerian officials in New York, on the margins of the General Assembly.

At the time of writing, there was still no sign of the anticipated proposals from Morocco for a plan of extended autonomy for Western Sahara. Negotiations over the content of this plan are reportedly still ongoing in Morocco at the national and local levels.

If the Moroccan plan does emerge, one option is for the Council to enter into serious discussions to determine whether it may be seen as a new basis for negotiations.

If Morocco again fails to produce the plan, the Council’s options are less substantive:

  • simply renew the MINURSO mandate;
  • renew MINURSO for an additional six months and ask the mandate review working group to consider the long-term future of the mandate; and
  • request the Secretary-General to prepare proposals for a drawdown or a termination of MINURSO.

Key Issues
The Council has been expecting a proposed Moroccan plan on extended autonomy for Western Sahara for almost all of 2006. Whether the plan will be flexible enough to be considered by the Polisario and, therefore, constitute a new basis for negotiations among the parties remains to be seen.

A related issue is whether the Council will, this time, consider the Secretary-General’s proposals to end the stalemate. The Secretary-General considers that the question of Western Sahara is at an impasse, but that the indefinite prolongation of the status quo is not an option. Under this argument, the UN should “step back” to allow direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions, with the goal of working out a compromise.

Progress was impossible over the last six months because of the parties’ reluctance to engage in direct negotiations without preconditions. Their positions have not changed.

  • Although the Polisario does not reject in principle the idea of negotiations, it wants a clear objective. For the Polisario, the fulfilment of the right to self-determination as granted to it by the General Assembly resolution A/1514(XV) of 14 December 1960 in the context of decolonisation remains a major principle. For them a referendum including independence as an option, as envisaged in Baker Plan II, introduced in 2003, is the preferred framework.
  • Morocco, for its part, had rejected Baker Plan II. According to a government website, it now considers that the only solution would be for the parties to agree on a “transfer of competences to the local populations […] within the framework of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Kingdom.” In this regard, Morocco declared its readiness to submit an autonomy plan with provisions for consultation of the population. For Morocco, therefore, negotiations are only conceivable if they do not include the option of independence. Morocco also supports the Van Walsum approach and has stated its readiness to present a plan to end the impasse. On the issue of direct negotiations, Morocco is willing to engage but wants Algeria to participate.
  • Algeria fully supports the Polisario, but has refused to take part in direct negotiations as it does not consider itself a party.

Council Dynamics
The Council is reluctant to try to impose any solution or even any real pressure on the parties. In the absence of any evolution in the position of the parties, the situation seems likely to remain stalled.

There has been very little support within the Council for MINURSO’s termination, as most members believe that the force still has a deterrent effect and preserves the ceasefire. However, this may change as some members grow increasingly impatient.

In this regard, the position that the US adopts with regard to the future of MINURSO will be important. The US has already indicated that in the absence of progress on the political side, the mandate of MINURSO should be reviewed. Increasingly it seems this will be used as leverage over the parties to find a compromise.

For its part, the Group of Friends now seems to accept that Baker Plan II cannot be revived. The Group now seems to consider that the Moroccan plan for extended autonomy may be worth exploring, provided that it is serious and substantive.

Underlying Problems
Talk of threatening to reduce or withdraw MINURSO seems unlikely to have an impact on the parties at this stage. This threat has been used in the past and the parties do not seem to consider it a credible outcome anymore (something much more concrete seems necessary). Moreover, preserving MINURSO is the only point of convergence between Morocco and the Polisario. The Secretary-General is also very reluctant to withdraw MINURSO believing that there is a real risk of renewed violence. It is acknowledged by the Secretary-General as well as by Council members that MINURSO plays a stabilising role in the region.

Defining who would be the recipient of an autonomy plan is problematic. If Morocco offers to provide extended autonomy to the territory of Western Sahara, as opposed to the Sahrawi population, it may be rejected as it would include the Moroccan “settlers” (viewed as such by the Polisario, but as legitimate inhabitants of the area by Morocco). The current settler population is thought to outnumber the indigenous Sahrawis. On the other hand, because of the movements of population in the area, it would be very difficult to define the recipients of the autonomy.

UN Documents

 Last Security Council Resolution
  • S/RES/1675 (28 April 2006) rolled over the MINURSO mandate for an additional six months.
 Most Recent Secretary-General’s Report
 Selected Letters to the President of the Council
  • S/2006/466 (30 June 2006) letter from the Secretary-General reminding the Council of its recommendations and expecting progress on the current impasse.
  • S/2006/266 (27 April 2006) letter from Namibia describing the Secretary-General’s approach as an “attempt to legalize the occupation of Western Sahara.”
  • S/2006/258 (24 April 2006) letter from Algeria reiterating that a solution had to be found on the basis of Baker Plan II.
Other Related Documents

For historical background and a fuller list of documents, please refer to our January 2006 Forecast.

Other Relevant Facts

 Special Representative of the Secretary-General
 Currently vacant
 Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy
 Peter van Walsum (Netherlands)
 Size and Composition of Mission (31 July 2006)
 220 total uniformed personnel; supported by some 123 international civilian personnel and 115 local civilian staff
 Key Troop Contributing Countries
 Russia, Egypt, France, Korea, China, Ghana and Malaysia
 1 July 2006 – 30 June 2007: $44.6 million (gross)

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