Expected Council Action
In October, the Council may receive the second of this year’s semi-annual briefings on the situation in Western Sahara by Special Representative and head of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) Kim Bolduc and Personal Envoy Christopher Ross.
Key Recent Developments
Reports began emerging on 11 August that Moroccan forces had repeatedly crossed the berm into the Polisario-held part of Western Sahara in the Al Guergerat zone near the Mauritanian border, in contravention of the ceasefire agreement. The Royal Moroccan Army initially told the UN that they were clearing the area of drug trafficking and smuggling, but MINURSO later observed the building of a road in the area. MINURSO had observed the presence of armed forces in the area, in breach of Military Agreement No. 1 of the ceasefire. The Secretariat has sent several notes to the Council, depicting a situation of increasing tensions and risk of confrontation. According to these notes, on 28 August the Polisario informed MINURSO that it would establish a checkpoint intended to stop Moroccan construction work, and the mission informed the Polisario that this too would constitute a violation of Military Agreement No. 1. The parties remain positioned 120 metres apart.
Bolduc has presented the parties with several proposals to resolve the crisis, including a freeze of engineering work and the complete withdrawal of all armed elements, or a continuation of the construction work by a third party or by MINURSO. However, the parties have failed to agree, as Morocco has affirmed that it intends to proceed with the construction of the road, which would link the Moroccan position at the berm with the Mauritanian border, and Polisario officials continue to object to the building of the road.
In response, MINURSO has deployed 12 military observers stationed between the Moroccan and Polisario positions. DPKO has noted that these observers are conducting their tasks under hardship conditions, with no shelters or facilities available. Bolduc has consulted Moroccan civilian authorities concerning establishing a small shelter for the observers, and was told to refer the question to the Royal Moroccan Army, who had previously signalled their opposition to such a move.
On 9 September, the Polisario sent a letter to the Council highlighting that the construction of a road in the buffer zone had been previously attempted by Morocco in 2001 and 2002, as reflected in the reports of the Secretary-General in those years, but that such work had been suspended “at the request of MINURSO” on the basis that such activities could constitute a breach of the ceasefire. The letter expressed surprise that MINURSO would offer to complete construction of the road, stating that “the UN seems to have been advised to ignore its own decision on this issue”.
The immediate issue is that given the tense situation in Al Guergarat, some resumption of hostilities remains a real possibility.
The underlying issue is that the parties to the conflict remain deadlocked and the political process has stalled, since the parties’ proposals for the basis of a political solution as outlined in 2007 are mutually exclusive.
A further issue is that the civilian component of MINURSO has not yet been fully reinstated, following Morocco’s expulsion of over 70 staffers in March.
One option would be for the Council to merely receive the briefing and continue to monitor the situation.
Another option would be to issue a statement urging the parties to de-escalate and withdraw from the buffer zone.
A further option would be to take the opportunity to address the wider conflict and reiterate the call made in resolution 2285 for the parties to continue negotiations without preconditions with a view to achieving a political solution to provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.
Deep divisions have rendered the Council largely impotent on Western Sahara through successive recent crises. Following Morocco’s expulsion of MINURSO’s civilian component in March due to a dispute with the Secretary-General, the Council remained mostly silent, due to the insistence of some members that support the Moroccan position concerning Western Sahara. These members, who include France, Senegal and Spain, continue to advocate minimal involvement of the Council concerning the current crisis. Other members, including Angola, New Zealand, Uruguay and Venezuela, have attempted to enhance the Council’s role through requesting ad hoc briefings and proposing outcomes; however, they face strong opposition.
UN Documents on Western Sahara
|Security Council Resolution|
|29 April 2016 S/RES/2285||This resolution renewed the MINURSO mandate.|
|10 January 2002 S/2002/41||This was the Secretary-General’s report that addressed Moroccan’s attempts to construct a road in the buffer zone in 2001 and 2002.|
|20 June 2001 S/2001/613||This was Secretary-General’s report that addressed Moroccan’s attempts to construct a road in the buffer zone.|
|24 April 2001 S/2001/398||This was Secretary-General’s report that addressed Moroccan’s attempts to construct a road in the buffer zone.|