- The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 2414 (2018), by which the Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 31 October 2018 and requested me to submit a report on the situation in Western Sahara before the end of the mandate period. It covers developments that have occurred since the issuance of my previous report, of 29 March 2018 (S/2018/277), and describes the situation on the ground, the status and progress of the political negotiations on Western Sahara, the implementation of resolution 2414 (2018) and the existing challenges to the Mission’s operations and steps taken to address them.
II. Recent developments
During the period since the issuance of my previous report, overall calm has prevailed throughout the Territory on both sides of the berm, al though the previously reported underlying tensions between the parties (ibid., para. 3) continue.
On the political front, my Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Horst Koehler, has stepped up efforts to advance the political negotiations between the part ies. Following the adoption of resolution 2414 (2018), he undertook consultations with relevant interlocutors, including Security Council members, members of the Group of Friends on Western Sahara and regional organizations. From 23 June to 1 July 2018, he carried out a second visit to the region, during which he held discussions with a wide range of high - level officials of both the parties and neighbouring States and civil society representatives. Following the visit, and in accordance with resolution 2414 (2018), he briefed the Council on 8 August and announced his intention to invite the parties and the neighbours to direct negotiations before the end o f the year. Letters of invitation to an initial round - table meeting in Geneva on 5 and 6 December 2018 were subsequently sent to the parties, on 28 September.
Meanwhile, “police” of the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el - Hamra y de Río de Or o (Frente POLISARIO) h ave not been present in the buffer strip in Guerguerat (ibid.7, paras. 3 – 10) since 22 April 2018. The Secretary - General of Frente POLISARIO, Brahim Ghali, verbally confirmed to my Personal Envoy on June, during their meeting in Rab ouni, Algeria, that the withdrawal was permanent. In view of that development, in mid - July MINURSO began to draw down its daytime monitoring post in Guerguerat. Regular aerial and ground patrols of the area are being maintained. At the same meeting in June , Mr. Ghali also pledged not to relocate any new administrative installations to Bir Lahlou or Tifariti, in keeping with resolution 2414 (2018).
While no major threats to the ceasefire have been record ed to date, MINURSO reported a number of new violations of military agreement No. 1. In all instances of alleged or observed violations, MINURSO engaged with the parties to prevent or resolve the violations. On a number of occasions, it was able to persuad e the parties to at least partially restore the status quo ante or to abandon planned actions that could potentially violate military agreement No. 1 or create tensions.
Not all allegations raised by the parties were corroborated by the Mission’s recon naissance on the ground. Such instances of alleged or observed violations have occurred once a week on average since the beginning of the year, and the repeated pattern of reduced tensions following the Mission’s actions provides evidence of the effectiven ess of its role in preventing conflict and in maintaining an environment conducive to the work of my Personal Envoy.
Both Morocco and Frente POLISARIO justified some of their activities as being necessary to prevent drug trafficking and other criminal activities. Military agreement No. 1 does not address anti - smuggling or criminal prevention activities by military forces.
With respect to paragraph 9 of resolution 2414 (2018), in which the Security Council recognized that fundamental questions related to the ceasefire and related agreements remained and called upon the Secretary - General to interview the parties in an effort to better understand those issues, the Secretariat launched a process of enga gement with the parties, seeking written responses regarding their understanding of the ceasefire and related agreements, and views on any aspects of them that might need to be adjusted. In their responses, both parties provided detailed overviews of their understanding of the current ceasefire architecture, including their views on the context and origin of the agreements. The parties shared the view that the current ceasefire architecture had played a central role in stabilizing the situation in Western S ahara. The parties also reaffirmed their commitment to the ceasefire architecture and their adherence to its terms and those of military agreement No. 1. The parties did not see a need for the adjustment of either the ceasefire architecture or military agr eement No. 1. However, both parties expressed widely divergent views on their implications and application.
During the reporting period, insofar as MINURSO was able to observe, Morocco continued to make considerable investments in infrastructure and eco nomic development projects west of the berm. Morocco maintains that the investments and projects benefit the people of Western Sahara and are implemented in full consultation with them. Frente POLISARIO continues to protest that the investments and develop ment activities, as well as the exploitation of the natural resources of Western Sahara, are in violation of international law and of the status of Western Sahara as a Non - Self - Governing Territory. Frente POLISARIO also claims that all expressions of disse nt, especially public pro - referendum or pro - independence demonstrations, by the Sahrawi population west of the berm are systematically and violently repressed by Moroccan security forces.
Frustration and anger at the lack of progress in the political process continue to prevail among the general population of the refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria, compounded by persistent difficulties, such as rising malnutrition, brought about by the steady reductions in humanitarian aid. No significant security inc idents were reported in the refugee camps during the reporting period, and, unlike previously, MINURSO received no reports of major public demonstrations against the political and military leadership.
In a letter dated 30 March 2018, King Mohammed VI wrote to me denouncing repeated provocations and violations of the ceasefire and related military agreements by Frente POLISARIO. In his letter, he drew particular attention to t he announced intention of Frente POLISARIO to move some of its administrative structures to Bir Lahlou or Tifariti, east of the berm. He defined those intentions as acts aimed at illegally changing the status quo on the ground, which would force Morocco to unilaterally take action to preserve the status of the Territory to the east of the berm. Assurances were later given by Frente POLISARIO that no administrative structures would be moved. Additional letters were received from the Permanent Representative of Morocco to the United Nations complaining about Frente POLISARIO violations east of the berm (see para. 34 below).
I also received a letter from the Secretary - General of Frente POLISARIO claiming that, on 19 May, a Sahrawi student at Ibn Zohr University in Agadir, Morocco, had been murdered as a result of the country’s polic y against the Sahrawi population and that a campaign against peaceful Sahrawi demonstrators had been conducted in Laayoune and Smara during the visit by my Personal Envoy to the Territory.