What's In Blue

Posted Thu 29 Sep 2016

Briefing on Western Sahara

This afternoon (29 September), Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), HervĂ© Ladsous, will brief Council members on the situation in Western Sahara under “any other businesss”. The briefing was requested by Angola, Uruguay and Venezuela, in order to be updated by DPKO on the situation in the area of Al Guerguerat, as well as on the functionality of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). This will be the third briefing called on the situation since allegations emerged that Moroccan forces have traversed the berm, which separates the Moroccan-controlled territory from that held by the Polisario, in violation of the 1991 ceasefire that it signed with the Polisario.

On 27 September, DPKO sent Council members a confidential note on the situation. It seems that Morocco has completed laying asphalt on 2.4 kilometres of road extending south from the Moroccan position on the berm (towards the Mauritanian border), and security elements from both parties have remained in the buffer strip separated by 120 metres. The Polisario continues to object to the construction and request its immediate suspension. Since the beginning of the situation in Al Guerguerat, MINURSO has observed 17 Polisario vehicles in the buffer strip, most carrying weapons, and has requested information from them as to the activities of these vehicles. Meanwhile, the Polisario has complained about what they assert to be a Moroccan military plane flying over the area, in violation of Military Agreement No. 1.

In response to the situation, MINURSO has allocated 12 military observers stationed between the Moroccan road works and the Polisario check point. DPKO notes that these observers are conducting their tasks “under extreme duress” with no shelters or facilities available. Special Representative and head of MINURSO Kim Bolduc has consulted Moroccan civilian authorities about 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.

The parties have not come to agreement regarding MINURSO’s proposals for defusing the situation through the cessation of construction work, the removal of Polisario elements and the implementation of MINURSO’s earlier proposal to undertake the completion of the construction and establish a permanent observation point in the area. Council members may be interested in hearing whether any other efforts are being considered, with some possibly advocating for alternative approaches to the crisis to be considered.

Little has changed on the ground since Council members last met on 9 September for a briefing by Bolduc and Personal Envoy Christopher Ross, at the request of the Secretariat. At that meeting, most Council members expressed concern over the heightened tensions. It appears that Angola, Uruguay and Venezuela called on the Council to impose measures against Morocco, while France and Senegal insisted that the work was civilian and not military. New Zealand proposed press elements, but France was opposed to any kind of outcome. It remains to be seen whether any Council members will propose any statement or action at today’s meeting.

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