Bashir Mustafa Assayid, the deputy secretary-general of the Polisario Front, said the failure of the United Nations Security Council in organizing a referendum on independence for the Sahrawi people has led to the possibility of another outbreak of war between the separatist group he represents and Morocco.
Assayid made the comments on Tuesday at a press conference in Madrid. During the event he added that even if the Security Council extended the mandate U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Western Sahara – known by its French acronym of MINURSO – it would not be enough to guarantee the continuation of the ceasefire between the Front and the Moroccan government.
U.N. peacekeeping missions must submit yearly reports on their progress, which are then forwarded to the Security Council for a vote on the future of the international entity’s mandate regarding the ensuing conflict. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s 2016 report on MINURSO, which is usually released publicly by early April, has been delayed this year due to the U.N. leader’s ongoing political row with the government of Morocco.
Last month, after visiting refugee camps housing Sahrawis in the Algerian city of Tindouf, Ki-moon mistakenly referred to Morocco’s presence in the Western Sahara as an “occupation.” Since then, millions of Moroccans have protested the statement as a deviation from the secretary-general’s duty to remain impartial when speaking about international disputes.
MINURSO was established in 1991 after the U.N. brokered a peace deal between Morocco and the Polisario Front, ending a 16-year war. The deal included a provision guaranteeing self-determination for the Sahrawi people, but a dispute regarding who should be allowed to vote in a referendum prevented the measure from being implemented.
The option of a referendum with the option of independence was dropped in 2004 when the Security Council came to the sober conclusion that provisions of the 1991 Settlement Plan could not be implemented on the ground.
Since the April 2007, the Security Council set new parameters of negotiations, and called on the parties to work in good faith and without precondition towards reaching, a long-lasting and mutually acceptable political solution.
In the latest draft of the report, Ki-moon warned of an “escalation to all-out war” over the Western Sahara and suggested the council to approve the distribution of 14 additional military and medical personnel in the region.
The top diplomat also urged the 15-member council to restore support for MINURSO and “promote the standards and neutralities of peacekeeping missions affiliated with the United Nations.”
The Security Council is scheduled to vote this Thursday a new resolution to extend the mandate of MINURSO for an additional year until April 30, 2017.