What's In Blue

Posted Thu 25 Aug 2016

Consultations on Western Sahara

Tomorrow morning (26 August), Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations El-Ghassim Wane will brief Council members in consultations on the situation in Western Sahara. The briefing was requested by Venezuela in light of allegations by the Polisario that Morocco has traversed the berm in Al Guargarat, just north of the Mauritanian border, in violation of the ceasefire signed between both parties in 1991.

On 15 August, the Polisario Front Secretary General Brahim Ghali sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, claiming that starting 11 August Moroccan forces, backed by transport vehicles, military engineering units and aerial reconnaissance, repeatedly crossed the berm, into the Polisario-held part of Western Sahara in the Al Guargarat zone, near the Mauritanian border. The letter described the actions as a serious violation of the ceasefire, representing a dangerous precedent aimed at undermining MINURSO’s mandate, as well as an affront to the decisions of the Council. On 22 August the Polisario transmitted the same letter directly to Council members. In a 24 August press release, the Polisario further requested that MINURSO install an observation post in the area in question and report to the Council in accordance with its mandate to monitor the ceasefire.

According to a 16 August statement by Morocco’s Interior Ministry, Moroccan security forces and customs officials were carrying out an operation near the Mauritania border, north of Mauritania’s second city Nouadhibou, aimed at dismantling “smuggling rings and illegal commercial trade” in the area. The statement said that the operation had successfully dismantled “three meeting points,” clearing the area of more than 600 cars and an unspecified number of smugglers. According to the Mauritanian media, Mauritania’s President Mohammed Oueld Abdelaziz ordered the military to be in a state of alert and to deploy missiles towards the border in response to Morocco’s presence in Al Guargarat.

On 18 August, a UN spokesperson said that MINURSO had deployed ground and air capabilities on 16 and 17 August to investigate the allegations and had not observed Moroccan military presence or equipment in the buffer strip. He said that the mission observed what were assessed to be civilian vehicles moving across the berm, but was unable to determine additional information. He added that MINURSO continues its liaison with both parties in order to ascertain the facts. Members will be interested in hearing from Wane if there is any new information about the alleged ceasefire violations following further investigation by MINURSO.

Council members may ask Wane about how these events are being interpreted on the ground and if there have been any adverse effects on the maintenance of peace in the area. Some members may also raise the request by the Polisario for MINURSO to install an observation post in the area and to report to the Council on its findings.

The last time the Council met on Western Sahara was on 26 July, when Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations HervĂ© Ladsous and Special Representative Kim Bolduc briefed in consultations, as requested by resolution 2285 of 29 April. The resolution renewed MINURSO’s mandate and emphasised the urgent need for the mission to return to full functionality following Morocco’s expulsion of civilian staff members in March due to a dispute with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, following Ban’s use of the term “occupation” to describe Morocco’s relationship to Western Sahara. Council members may be interested in a further update on the functioning of the mission during tomorrow’s meeting.