February 2008 Monthly Forecast

Posted 29 January 2008
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AFRICA

Western Sahara

Expected Council Action
A report is due by 31 January on the talks convened by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum, involving Morocco and the Polisario. It seems that an advanced copy was circulated to Council members on 28 January. The Council is likely to discuss this report in informal consultations during February. No significant Council action is expected. The mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in the Western Sahara (MINURSO) expires on 30 April.

Key Recent Developments
On 9 January, van Walsum released a communiqué on the third round of talks that took place on 8 and 9 January. It noted that the parties continued to have strong differences but had agreed on the need to move into a substantive phase. There was no progress on confidence-building measures (Morocco apparently continuing to hold to its position that such measures should not be discussed at this time), but there were preliminary discussions on thematic subjects, including administration, competencies and institutions. The parties will next meet on 11-13 March.

Van Walsum is due to visit the region in early February to hold consultations with Morocco, the Polisario, Algeria and Mauritania.

From 14 to 20 December, the Polisario held a “congress” (usually held every three to four years) in its outpost of Tifariti. In a statement carried by the Algerian official news agency, the Polisario said that if current negotiations fail, the Moroccan government would assume full consequences including possibly for resumption of hostilities.

In his October report on MINURSO, the Secretary-General had noted that the two sides held mutually exclusive positions and that the parties could not be said to have entered into negotiations. He emphasised that both the Moroccan and the Polisario plans should be discussed as both are recognised in resolution 1754, which in April 2007 had called for negotiations without preconditions. In the report, the Secretary-General also noted that even if Morocco “may not be interested in the Frente Polisario’s explanation, which presupposes openness to an independent Western Sahara, it will still have to participate in such a discussion.”

In October the Secretary-General also launched an appeal for funding confidence-building measures led by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as current funding was not sufficient to continue activities. UNHCR may be forced to end the exchange of family visits. It seems that there has been no response from potential donors at press time.

The Council adopted resolution 1783 on 31 October 2007 renewing MINURSO’s mandate for six months. One issue was whether the Council would take up the Secretary-General’s recommendation to try to stimulate the political process. The Council did so and called on the parties to continue to show political will and engage in substantive, good-faith negotiations without preconditions. The language followed fairly closely its previous resolution, except for a more extensive reference to past efforts to find solutions. Resolution 1783 did not address human rights despite the Secretary-General’s call on the parties to ensure respect for the human rights of the people of Western Sahara. Apparently this was not even raised during discussions among the Group of Friends.

Options

Council options include:

  • adopting a wait and see posture;
  • actively encouraging the parties to agree to discuss both plans in substance;
  • calling for talks on further confidence-building measures;
  • calling on member states to contribute financially to the UNHCR confidence-building programme; and
  • simply welcoming the Secretary-General’s report and encouraging the parties to continue the talks.

Key Issues
The key issue is whether to make another effort to push the parties to engage in substantive discussions and, if so, whether to insist that they discuss both plans or focus on thematic issues and confidence-building, or whether to wait until the next mandate renewal in April.

Council Dynamics
The Council remains divided on the issue. Some non-aligned countries (in particular, Panama and South Africa) and Russia sympathise with the Polisario position. France and the US lean towards Morocco. The five new members are unlikely to significantly alter the dynamics. Libya is likely to have a balanced position. It seems to have good relations with both Algeria and Morocco.

The issue is usually discussed first among the Group of Friends (France, Russia, Spain, the UK and the US). However, the divergent views in the Council are also represented in the Group, so any outcome is usually already a compromise. The process leading to resolution 1783 in October demonstrated the difficulty for Council members not in the Group to play a significant role. It seems that in the Group of Friends, the US, supported by France, proposed that the draft refer to the Moroccan plan specifically as one realistic basis for negotiations. But Russia and the UK thought this was too much of a tilt in Morocco’s favour. Eventually the language was proposed which preserved the earlier even-handed approach.

In the Council, South Africa criticised the Moroccan plan as a unilateral attempt to prevent the Saharan people from exercising their right to self-determination. South Africa also raised a concern that resolution 1783 made no mention of human rights violations in Western Sahara (S/PV.5773).

At press time it was still unclear whether the US, which has the lead, would propose a text responding to the Secretary-General’s report.

There seems to be little enthusiasm for Council action, although a statement reiterating that the parties must continue to talk and engage on substance is a possibility.

UN Documents

Selected Resolutions

  • S/RES/1783 (31 October 2007) called upon the parties to continue negotiations taking into account the efforts made since 2006, requested the Secretary-General to report on these talks by 31 January, and extended MINURSO’s mandate for six months.
  • S/RES/1754 (30 April 2007) called for negotiations without preconditions and extended MINURSO’s mandate for six months.

Secretary-General’s Latest Reports

Selected Letters

  • S/2007/714 (6 December 2007) was a letter from Morocco complaining that the Polisario’s congress due to take place from 14 to 18 December in the buffer strip is a breach of the ceasefire agreement.
  • 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 November 2007): 242 total uniformed personnel, including 48 troops, six police officers and 188 military observers

Key Troop Contributing Countries

Malaysia, Egypt, Russia, Ghana, France, China and Honduras

Cost (approved budget)

1 July 2007-30 June 2008: $46.47 million (A/C.5/61/23)

Full forecast