October 2007 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 September 2007
Download Complete Forecast: PDF

Western Sahara

Expected Council Action
The mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) is due to expire on 31 October. The Secretary-General is expected to recommend renewal for a further six months, and the Council is likely to agree.

Discussions are also likely on the current negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario. However, further substantive input from the Council is not expected at this stage. A third round is likely in November in Europe, though the exact date and location are yet to be determined.

Key Recent Developments
The second round of negotiations was held on 10 and 11 August in Manhasset, New York, under the same format as the previous round (see our July Forecast for details). The atmosphere seemed to have been less cordial. The parties focused on ways to reinforce confidence-building measures such as contacts between Sahrawi refugees in the Algerian border area of Tindouf and their relatives in Western Sahara. These are now underway, supervised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum, tried unsuccessfully to extend discussions to other confidence-building measures. The parties also discussed the implementation of resolution 1754 of 30 April 2007, which called for negotiations without preconditions in good faith with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution that would provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

Differences in interpretation of the resolution remain. It seems that Morocco considers that its autonomy plan is a good basis for negotiations, since the resolution qualified the Moroccan efforts as “serious and credible.” The Polisario believes that the autonomy plan is only one option, and that the Council did not show its preference for any plan in resolution 1754. Van Walsum proposed focusing on other themes such as natural resources and local administration. But it seems that at this stage each party wanted to focus on its own national or community experience.

On 27 June, the Secretary-General submitted a report on the status and progress of the first round of negotiations. He noted that the two parties remained far apart on the definition of self-determination, despite having accepted resolution 1754. The Secretary-General had originally made recommendations in his report, including that the Council call on all member states to urge “both parties to make every effort to maintain the momentum and to impress upon them that a final resolution of the conflict will require flexibility and sacrifice from both of them.” He also made specific recommendations to Morocco and the Polisario. But because of concerns from both parties that this might negatively influence the next round, the report was reissued without this paragraph.

On 11 July the Council held consultations and issued a press statement supporting the negotiations and expressing hope that the next round would be substantial and in good faith.

Council options include:

  • remaining silent on the negotiations when it renews MINURSO;
  • encouraging the next round of negotiations in general terms; and
  • addressing more specifically the desirability of additional confidence-building measures.

It could also consider:

  • a call on member states to contribute financially to the confidence building measures (especially since UNHCR in September signaled financial difficulties for this programme); and
  • expressing concern for the situation of human rights in Western Sahara, and perhaps including a human rights mandate for MINURSO.

Key Issues
At this stage, the main issue is whether the Council should actively comment on the substantive issues. A related issue is whether it would be productive or unproductive to apply further pressure to the parties to start negotiating the substance of how to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, providing for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

Council and Wider Dynamics
Although at press time the Group of Friends (France, Russia, Spain, the UK and the US), which has the lead on Western Sahara, had not yet formally met to discuss the matter, there seems to be consensus that MINURSO should be renewed for at least six months. The Group also seems to agree that there is value in reinforcing confidence-building measures.

Some members of the Group of Friends also seem to be willing to include language encouraging the parties to continue negotiations in good faith on the substance. They believe that being seen to maintain international pressure on the parties will be helpful as this is likely to have the effect that neither Morocco nor the Polisario will want to be seen as the one breaking the negotiations.

The US indicated in July that from its perspective “meaningful autonomy” with a referendum was consistent with the principle of self-determination and would be a realistic outcome. Because the US had previously been more ambiguous in its statements, this seemed to some to signal a shift which Morocco saw as support for its autonomy plan. However, the US also made it clear that autonomy was just one solution. Whether France’s new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, will maintain the same level of French support for Morocco remains to be seen. The UK favours neither side.

South Africa and Panama strongly support the principle of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara, with independence as an option. South Africa has criticised the Group of Friends for leaving too little time before MINURSO expires for the rest of the Council to adopt a position on the Group’s draft resolution and insists that the rest of the Council is entitled to form its own assessment of the situation.

UN Documents

Selected Resolutions
  • S/RES/1754 (30 April 2007) called for negotiations without preconditions and extended MINURSO’s mandate by six months.
Secretary-General’s Latest Report
  • S/2007/385 (27 June 2007) was on the first round of negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario.
Selected Letters
  • S/2007/509 (22 August 2007) and S/2007/510 (27 August 2007) was an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the Council on the appointment of General Zhao Jingmin as MINURSO’s new force commander.
  • S/2007/210 (16 April 2007) was a letter from South Africa to the Council transmitting the Polisario plan.
  • S/2007/206 (11 April 2007) was a letter from Morocco to the Council transmitting the Moroccan plan.

Other Relevant Facts

Special Representative of the Secretary-General
Julian Harston (UK)
Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy
Peter van Walsum (Netherlands)
MINURSO Force Commander
Major General Zhao Jingmin (China)
Size and Composition of Mission
  • Authorised strength: 231 military personnel and six police officers.
  • Strength as of 30 August 2007: 229 total uniformed personnel, including 28 troops, six police officers, 195 military observers.
Key Troop Contributing Countries
Malaysia, Egypt, Russia, France, Ghana, China, Honduras
1 July 2007-30 June 2008: $46.47 million (A/C.5/61/23)

Full forecast


Sign up for SCR emails