What's In Blue

Posted Wed 30 Oct 2013

Western Sahara Consultations

This afternoon (30 October) Security Council members are set to receive a briefing in consultations on the status of negotiations on Western Sahara. The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, Christopher Ross, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber, will brief. No outcome is expected from the briefing. (MINURSO’s current mandate expires at the end of April 2014.)

Council members are likely to be particularly interested in hearing Ross’s views on his trip to North Africa earlier this month, his first visit since the last consultations in April. It seems that the visit, originally envisioned to take place in late May, was delayed due to, among other reasons, a deadlock in the Moroccan government, the hospitalisation of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and the reshuffling of the Algerian government.

Ross reportedly visited Rabat in Morocco, the refugee camps near Tindouf in Algeria, Laayoune and Smara in Western Sahara, Nouakchott in Mauritania and Algiers in Algeria, meeting with a range of interlocutors representing several relevant parties. Ross is likely to brief on any progress on his “shuttle diplomacy” comprised of bilateral discussions with each party —and to give an update on their perspectives on this approach. (During the last consultations, Ross noted general acceptance of the new approach, although the Polisario Front insisted that periodic face-to-face meetings between the parties must also be held.)

In addition to updates on his regional meetings, some Council members might be interested in Ross addressing reported clashes between police and pro-independence protesters in Laayoune and Smara during his visit to Western Sahara. Some Council members may also like to hear of any developments on the consideration of refugee registration in the Tindouf refugee camps. Moroccan-Algerian bilateral relations may also be discussed in light of changes within both governments.

While Council members remain supportive of the current approach undertaken by Ross, they will be interested in what steps he intends to take after these consultations. In particular, there may be interest in whether next steps might include other rounds of his bilateral discussions with the parties and neighbouring countries, additional regional visits, or although unlikely at this stage, direct negotiations between the parties.

Weisbrod-Weber is likely to brief the Council on progress in relation to MINURSO’s mandate. This could include an update on any violations of the ceasefire and military agreements by the parties, any progress made in the clearance of land mines, and any challenges to MINURSO’s operations. (During the April consultations, Weisbrod-Weber gave an update on the progress to the questions of neutrality MINURSO has faced due to the display of Moroccan diplomatic licence plates on MINURSO vehicles and the presence of Moroccan flags around the headquarters of the mission.)

Of particular interest to Council members this afternoon will be the implementation of the confidence-building measures programme of UNHCR, which offers separated families in Western Sahara and refugee camps in Tindouf a range of services to help them reconnect. Last July, the UNHCR, Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania agreed to expand the UNHCR programme including a new flight schedule for visits in 2014 and additional seminars. The latest seminars reportedly took place in October in Portugal.

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