Risk of protracted status quo and negotiations on Western Sahara - Ban Ki-moon

from UN News Service
Published on 23 Oct 2007
The recent two rounds of United Nations-sponsored talks between Morocco and the Frente Polisario on Western Sahara were positive but they could not be described as negotiations, given the two sides largely rejected each other's views, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in his latest report on the issue.

Mr. Ban says "we now risk entering a protracted stage of negotiations and status quo" on Western Sahara, with more direction needed from the Security Council before any substantive negotiations can begin.

The UN-led talks between Morocco and the Frente Polisario, which contest Western Sahara, took place in Manhasset, just outside New York, in June and again in August.

The Secretary-General writes that the fundamental positions of the two sides were mutually exclusive and so it prevented them from seriously discussing each other's proposal during the talks.

"As a result, the parties did, indeed, express their views and even interacted with one another, but they mainly did so by rejecting the views of the other party, and there was hardly any exchange that could in earnest be characterized as negotiations," he states.

Morocco's position is that its sovereignty over Western Sahara should be recognized, while the Frente Polisario's position is that the Territory's final status should be decided in a referendum that includes independence as an option.

Although the August talks ended with agreement that the status quo was unacceptable and that the talks process should continue, a mutually acceptable date for the next round has not yet been set.

Mr. Ban says his Personal Envoy on the issue, Peter van Walsum, has reminded both parties that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."

The acceptance of this principle by Morocco and the Frente Polisario "could be the key to the beginning of genuine negotiations, as it would encourage them to discuss proposals with elements that are unacceptable to them."

In an April resolution, the Security Council called on the parties to enter into negotiations "without preconditions in good faith."

Mr. Ban recommends that the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which has been in place since September 1991 to monitor the ceasefire between the two sides, be extended for another six months until 30 April next year.

He also encourages the parties to work with MINURSO to directly cooperate and communicate with each other on areas of mutual concern such as mine clearance.

In addition, the Secretary-General welcomes the fact that exchanges of family visits between Western Sahara and refugee camps in the Tindouf area of neighbouring Algeria have continued without interruption in recent months.

"I am encouraged that the parties have also agreed in principle to the expansion of the programme, and that seminars and a new round of registration will take place in the months ahead," he says.