In the history of the Western Sahara conflict has the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) “unequivocally” correlated political events in the Grand Sahara with finding a resolution to this long simmering territorial dispute. The language in Mr. Ban Ki-moon recent report to the United Nations Security Council and the timing of its release are signs of a new U.N. line in its mediation efforts to end the Algerian-Moroccan showdown over control of the former Spanish colony.
The United Nations is managing several crises, operating in a new geopolitical environment, and facing threats that did not exist in 1975 when Morocco liberated the Sahara. Mr. Ban issued this report as a prelude to a major shift by the World body discounting independence for the Western Sahara and embracing federalism within Morocco as a possible solution.
Mr. Ban issued his “usual” call on the UNSC to continue its support for the peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO), yet the tone of his message signaled a new U.N. approach.
What are the significance and the implications of the U.N. Chief’s blunt statements and what is the message for Algeria and Morocco?
On the political front, Mr. Ban’s appeal, to Rabat and Algiers to step up efforts to overcome their rivalry and outline a map for a mutually acceptable resolution to the conflict, unarguably implies that the World body believes that the Algerian government shapes and controls the Polisario -Western Saharan separatists- delegates positions during the U.N. sponsored talks.
In portraying Algeria’s role as fundamental in determining the fate of the negations, Mr. Ban reframes the conflict as a Moroccan-Algerian spat over territories. Thus, this new opinion could be construed as a gradual transformation of the U.N. position on the proposal of independence for the Western Sahara rejecting as a possible resolution.
Morocco needs to do better job in explaining the political and economic characteristics of its Local Autonomy Plan for the territory in question. Rabat offered the proposal as an option for the Sahrawis to govern themselves within the Kingdom. However, the pan as it stands today need to be expanded and enlarged to meet U.N. expectations.
As the security situation in the region remains shaky, the international community worries about a flare up of hostilities in the Western Sahara. Apart from the question of the Algerian manipulation of the Polisario Chief, Abdelazziz, there is also the broader, overarching, matter of how to bring about a peace plan short of independence but acceptable to the restless young Sahrawis of Tindouf.
The breakdown of law and order in the Sahara, social tensions in Southern Algeria and the failure of the Polisario leadership to stem a flood of its armed fighters joining the ranks of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb are all reasons behind Mr. Ban’s candid account of the situation in that region of the word.
The persisting news reports describing a significant numbers of Polisario fighters joining terrorists in the Sahel hard-pressed the U.N. to acknowledge publicly that it has "serious concern that the war against al-Qaeda linked rebels in north Mali could spill over into other countries in the region leading to the infiltrating of terrorists into Sahrawi refugee camps in South West Algeria.”
Now that there are convincing evidence that neither the Algerian Military nor the Polisario militia can any longer control the comings and goings of Sahrawi fighters in Tindouf, the United Nations feels obligated to admit the “impracticality” of the idea of an independent Sahrawi Republic.
Stating that” All governments consulted raised serious concerns over the risk that the fighting in Mali could spill over into neighboring countries and contribute to radicalizing the Western Saharan refugee camps," Mr. Ban, in a significant and surprising turn, explicitly warns against the infiltration of radical groups in the Algeria control and Polisario run Sahrawis refugee camps in Tindouf.
The United Nation Secretary General warning indicates a loss of confidence in Algeria’s aptitude to manage the Saharawi dossier. Reports from Algerian Southern Provinces describing the local military and civilian authorities struggle in to controlling their own [Algerian] Sahrawis protesting in several location have alarmed the international community as AQIM continues to exploits the security void to boost recruitments in Tindouf.
Morocco and Algeria opportunities to resolve their differences are slipping away as the youth of Tindouf look for radicalism and crime as way out of the Camps. Mr. Ban report is on target and opens a door for all parties to bring real solutions and acceptable proposals to the table hoping to end the sufferings of thousands of civilians who lived in tents for most of their lives.
Written by Hassan Masiky