The International Dimension of the Western Sahara Question

The Western Sahara lies to the south of Morocco, bordering Algeria in the northeast and Mauritania in the east and south. It opens to the Atlantic and the Canary Islands in the west. According to the Moroccans, the Saharan people are historically and culturally part and parcel of the Moroccan Amazigh Kingdom and the reverse is also true. They have sworn their allegiance or Bay’a to Amazigh Princes, Emirs and Sultans of Morocco throughout history. This became also a traditional contract passed down through Muslim history, as Tawfiq Sultan writes: “the Prophet stressing the necessity of organising the community of believers under some leadership, urged the believers to adhere to the State by means of a contract or pledge of allegiance.”22 From this principle alone Morocco considered it had a legal right, according to Shari'a law, to its claim over Western Sahara, in addition to other ties which are examined below. In Morocco’s deep conscientiousness, Western Sahara has always been part of the Moroccan Amazigh Empire and considered as part of the occupied territories, just as those of Tarfaya, Sidi Ifni on the Atlantic shore and no different from those in the northern regions from Tangiers in the far West to the Moulouya River in the Far East marking the limits of the region of Berkane. There are also the two enclaves of the Presidios of Ceuta and Melilla together with the two fortified rocks offshore Alhuceima forming the Penon de Velez de la Gomera and Penon d'Alhuceima west of Melilla. On the Mediterranean, east of Melilla, there are the three small islands of Jaaffarines or Chaffarines (thieves or pirates), situated at Ras el-Ma (Cap de l'Eau) on the High Moulouya plains bordering the Province of Berkane on the Low Moulouya plains in the extreme North East of Morocco. When Spain, following in the footsteps of the French, granted independence to Northern Morocco in 1956, it did not hand back the whole of the occupied territories and only returned a small part of the North which was heavily inhabited, bearing in mind the Rif wars, proved difficult for Spain to control. The rest of the territory was not part of the deal, and the fundamental mistake Morocco made was to have signed the treaty in the first place. This mistake would cost the Moroccans dearly. France ignored its moral and historical obligation to recognise implicitly Moroccan sovereignty over the whole region including Tindouf, but Realpolitik made it impossible to do more than support the UN resolutions. France's dilemma was either to refuse to declare openly its support for the Moroccan claim to the Sahara and other occupied territories, or, if it did give that support, to accept the resultant damage the Algerians might cause to France economically and politically, especially to its image amongst radical Third World countries. The Western Sahara represented a new development and a challenging period in Franco-Moroccan relations, mainly because there were no other major issues left of a colonial nature.

 

Spain did not allow the Sahrawi people any political participation and the territory was not given any geopolitical division until 19 April 1961 Act, well after the 1958 war involving the nationalist Moroccan movement together with the local people of the Sahara, facing France and Spain, when Laayoune (el Aaiun) became the capital of the Sahara province. It also accepted some representation in the Cortes (Parliament), thus cosmetically upgrading and enhancing the status of the Province to please the international community, as Madrid saw it. As pressure mounted further on Spain, some local representation was required and, in order to counter any further international isolation or endure further national pressure, the Spanish Government created an assembly of local chiefs on 11 May 1967. It had 82 members and half of them were local notables, 36 were directly elected for four years and the rest, including the secretary of the ‘Jema’a’ or ‘Yema’a’ (the Saharan National Assembly), were appointed by the governor general.23 The creation of the Yema’a was followed by Spanish sponsorship of parties favourable to Spain, to represent the people in the Spanish Cortes.24 On 30 April 1973, the Yema'a was enlarged to either 102 or 190 members (depending on whether or not one accepts as legitimate the election on the following 11 June 1973 of 88 Sheikhs to the new assembly).25 In spite of this window-dressing presentation by the Spanish Government, successful international pressure conducted by Morocco with other North African states, the Arab League, the Islamic Conference of Lahore, the OAU and the UN, isolated the government of Spain diplomatically. Calls for complete decolonisation, according to UN Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, were heard from all sides. Spain conceded the need for a referendum, which Morocco rejected, as the Spaniards refused to accept the participation of 20,000 refugees living in Morocco.

 

The Spanish attitude was condemned by all sides and by early 1970s, the situation had indeed changed and a common front formed by the three North African countries started to take shape following the 15 June 1972 IXth conference of the OAU, in Rabat. This marked the first clear agreement, in principle and subject to Moroccan Parliament endorsement, between Morocco and Algeria over the delimitation of their border after the 1963 ‘sand’ war, and common exploitation and management of the iron ore at Ghar Jbilat, in the Moroccan Tindouf region administered by Algeria, and SEFERIF, Nador, in the Beni Snassen and Rif Region 2 in the North East of Morocco, as well as guaranteeing access to Algerian exports through Moroccan Atlantic shores. In return, Boumediene's Algeria promised to support Morocco in its claim over the Sahara and did so publicly at the Arab Summit held in Rabat from 26 to 29 October 1974.26

 

Hassan II officially put the question of the Sahara on the Moroccan agenda for the year 1974 in his speech of 18 July 1974, confirming his wish to complete Moroccan territorial sovereignty extending to Western Sahara and against any creation of a new state in that region.27 There was a parallel discussion between Spain and Algeria for the creation of a ‘fantoche’ state referred to by Hassan II in his speech above, and Algeria would counter any Moroccan claims to the Sahara. There were, according to Osman, two secret agreements between Algeria and Spain. The first was in July 1973, whereby Algeria would support the independence of the Sahara internationally and would also support the newly created Polisario Front. The second secret agreement was achieved in October 1975, when Algeria was due to occupy some strategic parts of the Sahara, and control the shape and form of the organisation of a Polisario state more in its favour. This was not acceptable to France which favoured a Moroccan solution in order to keep a regional balance. Martin Stone writes: 

Boumediene […] was attracted by the prospect of a weak pro-Algerian state on his southwestern border. Some commentators have also suggested that the Algerians extended support to Polisario to provide a shorter and thus cheaper transport route for iron ore produced at Ghar Djeibillet.28

 

It is equally important to note that there were two Spanish groups negotiating the issue of the Sahara in Spain. One was in favour of the Algerian stance, and the other was of the right, favouring a Moroccan solution, which they preferred to trust rather than that of Algeria. It was within these two scenarios that Algeria encouraged a separatist movement in the Canary Islands to become part of the African continent, and therefore outside Spanish jurisdiction. Algeria also harboured some members of ETA, the Basque separatist movement operating from Algiers. The Movement for the self-determination and Independence of the Canaries Archipelago (MPAIAC), published a programme for the future of the Islands in June 1972, in Algiers, in which it set out its objectives. They were to create an independent Canary Islands Republic with a limited autonomy for each of the seven Islands, the election of a National Assembly and the restoration of the Guanche Amazigh language.29 Spain realised that they could not trust Algeria, and there were no guarantees that Morocco would not use the same strategy if Spain accepted the Algerian proposal. There was also the risk that Algeria would only transfer the MPAIAC and ETA activities to Revolutionary Libya with even a larger access from the Canary Islands through the Polisario, Algeria and finally Libya. In facts, the Moroccans have more claims on the Amazigh Guanche who originated from the Moroccan Sahara than a ‘communist’ inspired regime in Algeria relying solely on revolutionary ideology, which the West rejects. It was partly on these bases that Spain took its final decision and opted for Morocco it knows better than trusting a revolutionary Algeria or its ally Kaddafi’s Libya.

 

The Moroccans, for strategic reasons, increased their diplomatic missions and sought support from the US, the French and other friendly Nations as well as taming some Spaniards, who in turn put pressure on Spain to resume negotiations and be more flexible with Moroccan proposals. The stalemate was broken with the help of Solis Ruiz, who was in favour of a Moroccan settlement and had the support of the Ultras to secure their interests in the whole Morocco. He was able to negotiate favourable deals with Hassan II ensuring Spanish participation in the Bou-Cra’a phosphate mines as well as a guaranteed fishing rights which used to be a constant dispute between the two countries.46 Solis Ruiz influence with American and French support, helped a tripartite agreement to come to fruition.47 France, for strategic, economic and political reasons, was in favour of Morocco because Paris preferred a Moroccan-controlled Sahara to a progressive new state and strategically, any deal in favour of Algeria, would undermine the balance of power in the region. Spain also realised that any deal struck with Morocco would also secure its interests in the Western Sahara and an agreement was considered in their favour and accepted to sign it on 14 November 1975. The two countries also agreed to ensure the defence of the Canary Islands and safeguard Spanish sovereignty, as already expressed.

 

However, the peaceful ‘transfer of administration’ to the Moroccans (as the Spaniards carefully worded the agreement) was stillborn as Algeria took a radical stance on the issue for the reasons already outlined. As a consequence of this, violence started to increase between Moroccan forces and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, leading to two proposals being presented to the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1975. The first proposed by Tunisia, Senegal, and Zaire and asked the signatories to respect the wishes of the Sahrawi people, which the Moroccans claim to have done, and the second proposal, emanated from Algeria, and called for the replacement of the Spanish administration by a four-member supervisory council, representing Spain, Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria,53 which Morocco rejected, as Algeria had no claim on the region.

 

The Polisario & Political Manoeuvres to destabilise Morocco and the OAU Failures

On 10 May 1973 the Frente Popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el-Hamra y Rio de Oro, or for short the Polisario Front, was founded around a core of Rabat Moroccan-educated nationalists and veterans of the ALN which had been disbanded by the Moroccans in 1958.58 The Polisario Front was founded as a Sahrawi nationalist movement waging a proxy war and a struggle for the full independence of the Western Sahara.59 In November 1975, the Spanish Government reached a deal with Morocco and Mauritania and after the Spanish withdrew on 26 February 1976, the Moroccans and the Mauritanians assumed the administration of the region. The following day, the so-called independent Sahrawi state (SADR) was declared and both Libya and Algeria recognised it and severed their diplomatic relations with Morocco.

 

Pursuant to the secret ‘Madrid Accords’ of November 1975, Spain ceded administrative control of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania1. As a result, the Polisario seized on the Spanish withdrawal in 1976 and declared an independent Western Sahara state named the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The SADR and Polisario, as its political wing, relied on their financial, military, diplomatic and humanitarian assistance from their long standing benefactor Algeria and Libya. They gathered the help of a group of ‘communist’ revolutionaries of the old guard from South Africa and the support of Cuba in the main, and turned to the OAU where they had support from other half-wit reactionaries and acted to destabilise and defeat the ‘Capitalist Moroccan imperialist regime’. This Accord also marked the beginning of the Polisario-Morocco military conflict, which lasted until 6 September 1991, when a cease-fire was declared by the UN.

 

It all started when Morocco signed the agreement with Spain and the Frente Popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el-Hamra y Rio de Oro, and some veterans of the ALN surfaced as a military force. As previously stated the ALN had been forcibly disbanded by Prince Hassan in 1958 opting for a peaceful settlement with Spain and a smooth transition of the territories to Morocco, as happened with Tarfaya and Sidi Ifni.2 As a result of the Moroccans and the Mauritanians assuming the administration of the regions, the Algerians hardened their position to the point of withdrawing their ambassador from Rabat. Furthermore, the Algerians expelled thousands of Moroccans established in Algeria for many generations and confiscated all their life long acquired properties and wealth, reminiscent of Nazi Germany, if not worse. This fait accompli of Moroccan and Mauritanian administration of the regions was badly received and condemned by Algeria and Libya who used it as a prelude to the Polisario Front to declare an independent Sahrawi state (SADR) on 27 February 1976. Furthermore, both Libya and Algeria encouraged the Polisario leaders to set up a Sahrawi nationalist movement to wage together a war and lead a military campaign against Morocco and Mauritania.3

 

The first military combat between the Moroccan armed forces and the Polisario erupted in Laayoune on 11 December 1975 and with Mauritania it was at Tichla and Lagouira on 20 December 1975. The first major military battle between the Moroccan forces, the Algerians and the Polisario took place in Amgala between 27 and 29 January 1976 when the Algerian military and the Polisario suffered a humiliating defeat they could never forget, just as that of the ‘sand’ war of 1963. The Algerian became more enraged and looking for revenge and many battles were fought without breaking the determination and the professionalism of the Moroccan army that always defeated them at the end of the war. Winning a battle here and there is not the same as winning the war and the Moroccan won not only the war, but also won politically, economically and socially and Morocco is in its Sahara, and the Sahara is in its Morocco. Furthermore, Morocco has not only developed parts of the country but the whole of the Kingdom from Tangier to Lagouira and from Saidia at Oued Kiss in the Province of Berkane to the Province of Aousserd in the South East of Region 12 of Eddakhla and Oued Eddahab.

 

As the conflict intensified, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) sought a regional resolution to defuse the situation in the Western Sahara in 1979 and called for a cease-fire and a referendum to decide on the right of self-determination or unification with Morocco. The OAU's efforts failed when, contrary to the OAU Charter, they admitted the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and formally recognised it as a full member of the OAU in 1984, which compelled Morocco to withdraw from the organisation in protest. After the failure of the OAU, Morocco rejected any involvement of the OAU in the Western Sahara question, as it is no longer impartial to the question and Morocco sought a UN arbitration. The United Nations got involved in 1988 with a proposed ‘settlement plan’, which provided for a cease-fire, a referendum for self-determination, the repatriation of refugees and the exchange of prisoners of war. There was ever since a stalemate until Ban Ki moon repeated the same mistake as the OAU to take side and put himself and not the Security Council out of the negotiating table until his departure at the end of this year, resign or be pushed out of a fast moving diplomacy.

 

After Mauritania withdrew from Western Sahara, the OAU attempted to admit the RASD at the Monrovia Summit of 15-20 July 1979 as a full member of the OAU.4 This move was strongly criticised and rejected by Morocco leading to profound crises and almost broke away the OAU as some members considered the move to hold a referendum biased and meaningless. Morocco was presented with a “fait accompli” and forced to negotiate directly with the Polisario. This was unacceptable to the Moroccans, given that the decision was contrary to the Organisation's Charter, and Morocco responded that: “only independent states could be admitted according to the wording of article 28, while article 27 provided that questions of interpretation should be settled by a two-third majority.”5 From 1975 to 1979 Morocco refused to submit to any referendum in the Sahara as it claimed to have respected its obligations by complying with the Madrid Accord and has discharged all the principles of the agreement when the Saharan Assembly (Yema’a) ratified it in the presence of the Spanish Governor General of the Sahara. This was far from satisfying the Algerians and as they persisted on their objections to the deal, Hassan II, in consultation with his allies, found a compromise, which stipulates that the people of the Sahara should have the choice to join Morocco or be independent. This new development could have isolated Morocco further if Hassan II had remained deaf to African and international opinion. He finally agreed to a referendum and, in a sudden move, asked the OAU to organise one when the king attended the Nairobi (I) XVIII Summit from 24 to 27 June 1981.6 After a long debate, the members at the summit passed resolution (A HG/Resolution 103 (XVIII) and the Executive asked the OAU to form a commission with full power to negotiate a cease-fire with the parties involved in the dispute. Thus, the OAU became responsible for the organisation and the holding of a referendum for which it asked the UN to provide a peacekeeping force to control it as well as maintain order.7 There were two further meetings marking resolution Nairobi II when Hassan II attended the meeting of the Committee from 24 to 26 August 1981 to explain the Moroccan position. The Moroccan Foreign Minister attended the Nairobi III meeting from 8th to 9th February 1982. During these meetings, the Committee took into account three of the main Moroccan positions, namely: “not to recognise the Polisario; no negotiations with the Polisario, and no withdrawal of the FAR from the Sahara.”8

 

Algeria, on the other hand, requested that the referendum should be an authentic and free one, and not a controlled one, as implied by Morocco; that an interim administration be put in place with wider powers; and that there is a provision for a security force to maintain peace. Morocco accepted none of these demands. Though there was hope of salvaging the deal, but the Algerians persisted on the admission of the RASD as a full member of the OAU which Edem Kodjo, the Secretary General of the OAU endorsed. Kodjo took the decision because 26 of the 50 members of the OAU had recognised the RASD and that this constituted admittance by simple majority in accordance with Article 28 of the OAU Charter, which, according to the Moroccans, this applies only to independent states and the Sahara is not, while Kodjo should have applied article 27 where two-third majority is required. Chirac, who was visiting Morocco in 1982 to attend the Francophone Mayors Conference, condemned the Secretary General of the OAU for his decision.9

 

The Moroccans were expecting the Algerians to push through another resolution, which in fact, they did during the XIXth Summit at Addis-Ababa, held on 6 June 1983. They submitted resolution AMG/RES 104, calling for direct negotiations with the RASD which Morocco once again rejected. To neutralise Libya from supporting the Polisario further, Morocco signed an Arab African Federation agreement with Kaddafi in 1984, which, as previously stated, outraged in turn the Algerians, who became more resolved to see the RASD entering the organisation.10 The XXth Summit of the OAU, held from 12 to 15 November 1984, admitted the RASD as a full member with an even bigger majority than the one at Nairobi in 1982. Morocco received this decision with great regret and anger, when Reda Guedira read out a pre-prepared speech from the king in which he announced the Moroccan withdrawal from the OAU.11 Nevertheless, there was a tacit acceptance of the principle of a referendum to be organised by the OAU, but by admitting the RASD it alienated Morocco and, according to the Moroccans, the organisation forfeited its role as an arbiter. Now Morocco was looking for solutions elsewhere, and indeed as far away as possible from ‘the tam-tam’12 African conferences which needed profound reorganizational ethics.13 The OAU decision reflected on Moroccans diplomatic relations to secure African support and the international community saw this as a diplomatic failure for the king. Consequently, Morocco turned back to the UN to find an equitable solution, as proved in the cases of Namibia and Afghanistan. Morocco understood that it had to complete the formality, which subsequently became a UN resolution calling for a referendum to take place in the territories and for the people of the Sahara to decide their own future. On 20 September 1988, Hector Gross Espiell, from Uruguay, was appointed as the First Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara.

 

From the OAU to the UN & the Role of the MINURSO

When the first attempt failed to admit the RASD to the OAU in Monrovia in 1979, Morocco was contemplating other strategies, and other alternatives to OAU resolutions. It became apparent that the Algerians influenced the passing of the resolutions and the balance started to tilt more in favour of the Polisario Front rather than in favour of Morocco. This prompted Hassan II to act on a new strategy. He chose to improve relations with France by having further consultations with Mitterrand in January 1982 when he renewed his acceptance of a referendum in the Western Sahara. Furthermore, Hassan II took the decision to address the UN on 27 September 1983 for the first time since the Sahara crisis, and declared to the General Assembly that Morocco was ready for a referendum within 24 hours.14 After the failed effort with the OAU, Morocco circulated a resolution at the UN asking for the transfer of the Sahara question to the UN. Guedira, the king’s representative, intervened on 28 November 1984 and declared that only the General Assembly of the UN was capable of dealing with the question of Western Sahara.15 Algeria reacted angrily to the Moroccan proposal, maintained that the issue was an African one, and it is up to the Africans to resolve. The UN found a compromise solution when it asked the OAU to help in this mission16 and called for indirect talks to take place between Morocco and the Polisario Front.17 The Secretary General of the UN then addressed a letter to the two parties concerned on 20 March 1986, informing them officially that he had taken up their case. First indirect talks between Morocco and the Polisario took place in New York from 9 to 15 April 1986 and from 5 to 9 May 1986. It was Hassan II, in a letter addressed to Perez de Cuellar, who requested these indirect talks or proximity talks.18 Further separate consultations followed in Geneva, from 9 to 10 July 1987, involving the General Secretary of the UN, the Secretary General of the OAU, Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Polisario Front. They reached a decision to send a UN technical mission to the region in order to assess the practical details of organising a referendum. The mission visited Morocco, the Sahara, Mauritania and Algeria respectively, from 20 November to 9 December 1987. After consultations with Kenneth Kaunda, the President of the OAU, and Abderrahim Farah, the Assistant Secretary General of the UN in May 1988, de Cuellar submitted to Morocco and the Front his proposal to settle the Western Sahara conflict under a ‘Settlement Proposals’ for a peaceful resolution of the conflict19. The Sahrawi people will have to choose between independence or to join with Morocco. Moroccan administration will remain during the referendum but a UN force will control public order. There will be a commission headed by Gros Espell to deal with the organisation of the referendum and a commission will proceed with the identification process of those who are illegible to vote in the referendum.20 By accepting de Cuellar’s plan, both Morocco and the Polisario Front accepted a cease-fire ending all military activities and giving a rise to political dialogue. In order to carry out a referendum, the Security Council decided on 29 April 1991, through resolution 690 (1991) to create the MINURSO, a UN Special mission, to organise and supervise the referendum. The MINURSO comprises around 1,700 soldiers and 1000 civil agents to deal with the identification process and 300 police officers to help in keeping peace and order during this operation. De Cuellar’s initiatives in achieving a cease-fire in order to finding a suitable solution to proceed to a referendum, created instead a stalemate of no peace no war for several years to come, and the situation remains unchanged in 2016. Nevertheless, there are still more than 1300 agents doing nothing in Laayoune since their task to supervise an identification process and organise a referendum was ruled out of the equation since the resignation of James Baker in 2004, and confirmed by the UN, since it accepted, in principle, the Moroccan proposals for an autonomous region in 2007, as first proposed by, but modified by Morocco, James Baker in 2004. These agents have ever since the cancellation of their first objectives, been receiving salaries and bonuses beyond imagination for doing nothing. In addition, Morocco, with its meagre resources, voluntarily contributes around 3 million dollars a year, as well as providing over 2300 Blue Helmets since the first Congo Rebellion of the 1960s, as well as setting up military hospitals in Kosovo, Palestine, Jordan, Mali, Ivory Coast, Tunisia to help Libya and more….Is really Ban Ki moon aware of the overall Moroccan contribution to the UN and World peace and security? Or is he using Morocco as a case study to propose a solution for South Korea to merge and be ruled by Kim Jong-un? Is he disguised in Pyongyang president Kim Jong-un communist sympathy uniform to please Algeria against his own Democratic South Korean country to challenge Seoul president democratically elected Ms Park Geun-hye as President and suggests to her to have her capital moved to Pyongyang, better than being dictated to by Yankees? Who knows? Hitler was neither stupid nor mad but he was definitely dumb because he could not see beyond his nose.

 

In the early period, the referendum itself became the subject of conflict, as now revived by Ban Ki moon declaration in Tindouf, and the main obstacle rested with the form it should take and the definition of the people who would be eligible to participate. The MINURSO planned to hold the first referendum in mid-January 1992, at the latest.21 Negotiations went on for a very long period but failed to produce an agreement. The status of Western Sahara remained unchanged, but several initiatives emerged, including an agreement involving James Baker, the new man Kofi Annan appointed on 17 March 1997 as the new UN Special Envoy, the Polisario and Morocco to hold a referendum in December 1998. This, in turn, failed and suffered the same fate as its predecessor. Baker organised several proximity talks with all parties concerned and the first separately held talks were in London between Baker, Morocco and the Polisario, in 1997, and where followed by the first face-to-face talks in Lisbon from 23 to 25 June 1997, leading to a breakthrough in the Houston Accords which was reached in September of the same year.

 

As these talks broke down on 28 June 2000 in Geneva, Baker realised that a referendum is a thing of the past and it is no longer possible to proceed to any meaningful identification process acceptable to either side, an aspect which Ban Ki moon did not read. Baker proposed a new initiative in the Baker Plan I (accord-cadre) to the parties providing self-rule for the region, short of full autonomy, with Moroccan sovereignty, and a referendum to be held at a future date. Algeria and the Polisario rejected it in June 2001, when on 2 December of that year, President Chirac recognised Moroccan sovereignty over the Saharan regions. Baker Plan II was proposed in January 2003 in favour of a trial autonomy period of 5 years, followed by a referendum, but was rejected, this time, by Morocco. Because of frustration and the stagnation of the affair, James Baker resigned in June 2004 and Kofi Annan appointed Alvaro Soto as the new Representative for the Western Sahara and, in turn, left shortly after in May 2005. Mr. Peter Van Walsum replaced him in July 2005 and started looking for an agreement between the two parties when Morocco came with its own proposal of autonomy, if not a complete revamp of one of Baker’s plans (mainly accord-cadre), excluding any notion of a referendum ever to take place. The new Moroccan initiative proposed a self-governing entity, which, through the Royal Advisory Council for the Saharan Affairs (CORCAS), should govern the territory under Moroccan sovereignty. The United Nations Security Council received officially the proposal on 11 April 2007. Though the Security Council received it favourably, the Polisario with their backers, the Algerians objected to it. The stalemate has led the UN to ask the two parties to have direct talks without preconditions for negotiations, in order to reach a mutually accepted political solution. There were, in fact, 13 rounds of negotiations from 2007 to 2012, all ending in failure. Mohammed VI made it clear that the question of a referendum is out of question, considering that Morocco’s sovereignty over the Sahara is a de facto reality, and nothing will change that. After several direct meetings between the Polisario, the Moroccan government, and the neighbouring countries of Algeria and Mauritania, both the Polisario and the Algerians rejected the offer. In the meantime, the UN renewed the mandate of the MINURSO every six months without much difficulty and this, perhaps should have ended a long time ago. On the contrary, resolution 1813 of 30 April 2008 renewed MINURSO’s mandate for 12 months, to 30 April 2009, in order to give both parties enough time to reach an agreement based on the Moroccan proposal. The UN also appointed a new Special Envoy, Christopher Ross, on 15 January 2009, and both parties of the conflict welcomed him hoping for miracles to happen. Two main developments emerged through confidence building exercises, mainly the release of all Moroccan prisoners of war held by the Polisario, and the organised exchange visits between split families in Algeria and Western Sahara. However, Christopher Ross’s role suffered from both sides and Morocco was opposed to his continuing as Envoy in 2012, but with the intervention and promises of the SG, the King accepted the resumption of Ross’s role. Equally, the MUNIRSO’s role is threatened, as Morocco refuses any changes to the original agreement on the mission the UN has in the ‘Moroccan’ Sahara. However, no one asked the question of the 1300 administrative civil staff have been doing there, since the referendum task they were appointed to administer, supervise and control was absent from the equation since the resignation of James Baker in 2004. It was only on 5 March 2016 after Ban Ki moon made outrageous declarations, by all standards, while visiting Tindouf and his behaviour there, was beyond any acceptable norm for a GS of the UN and spilt the beans that prompted Morocco to act. It asked for a drastic reduction of all civil and political agents, and requested their immediate departure from Morocco, stopped immediately the voluntary contributions Morocco made towards the salaries of the administrators. In fact Ban Ki moon could send them to set up camp in Tindouf to wait for Godot, if they wished…..but there is no fishing except chasing scorpions or play Russian roulette, with the SG Ban Ki moon’s compliments.

 

Further informal talks, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1871, were held in Armonk, New York on 10-11 February 2010, with no agreement reached. Christopher Ross was again dispatched to the region in March 2010, visiting Morocco, Tindouf, Mauritania and Algeria, pressing for formal talks to start soon while the MINURSO mandate was renewed again on 30 April 2010 for a further year. Ross’s effort produced many meetings, including those in Manhasset, New York between 8 and 9 November 2010, and other meetings followed to give more dynamism to confidence building measures from 16-18 December 2010, held also in Manhasset, New York, another followed in January 2011. Then came Geneva on 9 February 2011 to discuss humanitarian conditions in Tindouf, leading to the one on 16 May 2011, all ending in deadlock. Morocco cancelled all meetings with the Polisario till 2012, once the 25 November 2011 elections were over and a new majority government in power, though Ross had another round of consultations around the world in November 2011 to include Morocco, Algeria and the Polisario. Further visits took, place without any result while Morocco concentrated more the formalisation and the execution of its decentralisation plan, thus unilaterally imposing the autonomy plan, by first introducing Regionalisation in Morocco in 2015, as prescribed in the 2011 Constitution. During the 40th Anniversary of the Green March, the southern regions 10, 11 and 12 became officially totally integrated with the rest of Morocco and a development plan was announced with an investment plan of 77 billion Moroccan Dirhams putting the 3 regions in a very advanced economic development projects in all areas, outshining many other regions of the rest of Morocco.

 

Though the UN succeeded in achieving a cease-fire but was bogged down to defining and identifying the original inhabitants of the regions. All this time the UN MINURSO still relied only on a census Spain assented to under international pressures in 1974, and finally began to formulate plans for such a referendum, the principles of which the UN wanted to adopt under Moroccan administration. The whole region of Western Sahara had, according to the Spanish census published in 1974, approximately 82,00022 native inhabitants. Alternatively, the figures provided by Jeune Afrique, recorded that the total Sahrawi population was 73,497, of whom 38,336 were male and 35,161 were female, and of these 40,988 were under 18 years of age and 2,025 were over 70.23 The latter figures were the ones adopted by the UN to establish an electoral list for the referendum. Neither of the parties from Morocco or from the Polisario agreed on the figures or on the method to be adopted, and the flimsy UN diplomacy achieved next to nothing other than the fat salaries and perks the officials received including bribes from all sides and are still enjoying many privileges. Baker reached the conclusion that there was no solution possible under current proposals of maintaining the idea of a referendum and submitted new ones before he resigned in 2004. It was generally accepted since 2004 that conducting a referendum is an impossibility given the difficulty on agreeing on any identification process, which led to the adoption of the Security Council Resolution 1754 passed in April 2007, looking at a mutually agreed political solutions, as first proposed in the Baker Plans. As previously indicated, Morocco submitted a proposal for autonomy that was considered credible and serious to become ever since the only practical solution, at least for Morocco and many friendly nations across the world until 2016. Ban Kamoon, the current SG, inadvertently committed a capital crime when on a visit to Tindouf on 5 March 2016 evoked the occupation of the Sahara by Morocco, using a V sign during his visit and called for a referendum, amongst other stupid ideas, adding to his ignorance of the diplomatic code and principles. The UN under Ban Kamoon failed, as his predecessors, to provide any statistics on the number of refugees in the Camps around Tindouf or show any real concern on the Human Rights being ignored in the camps. Whereas Morocco has conducted a general census in 2014 and the actual total population of the 3 regions as it stood at the end of 2014, was 944.47024 and outlined for each region as follows:

a) Region 10 Guelmin and Oued Noun; with 4 Provinces: Tan-Tan, Guelmin, Sidi Ifni and Assa Zag, with a Total Population of 433757

b) Region 11 Laayoune Sakkia el Hamra with 4 provinces: Al Massara, Boujdour, Laayune et Tarfaya with a Total Population of 367758

c) Region 12 Eddakhla Oued Eddahab with 2 provinces: Aousserd and Oued Eddahab with a Total Population of 142955

Furthermore, Ban Kamoon has completely ignored the wishes of the great majority of the real Sahraoui that are settled in their Sahara as part and parcel of Morocco. They are democratically elected and freely chosen by the people for the people and running their own affairs at local, regional and national level and moving freely as they please, in other words they are as free as the rest of the Moroccans from Tangier to Lagouira and from Saidia to the region of Aousserd. They marched with the rest of the Moroccans in Rabat on 13 March 2016 and organised their own spontaneous march of nearly 200000 Sahraoui people on 15 March 2016 in the streets of Laayoune to prove their point and delivered a letter to the MINURSO offices there. There were placards calling for the MINURSO to leave, a view shared by all Moroccans and was also reflected in the last declarations addressed to the UN Secretary General on 15 and 16 March 2016.

 

Of course the figures above are academic and have no purpose for a referendum but have to be analysed and agreed to determine the Moroccan Sahraoui that are on Morocco soil compared to those in the Camps around Tindouf. Only Region 10, though it is part of the Sahara, but does not form totally part of the Spanish decolonisation process, as part of the region was in independent Morocco and previously under French occupation. This census would also be a real headache for the UN if they were to resolve any identification process because of the movements of all the populations from region to region and going back over centuries if not millennia. This is what James Baker discovered and advised against any such doomed exercise. This adds further to the old figures provided by the Spanish census which were published in 1974 and in the absence of any reliable and concrete figures, it is now estimated for political reasons and refugee aid at the camps at between 40,000 to 80,000 people, that are still victims of the Tindouf camps and a tool for the Polisario and Algerian corruption. At best, the whole population of the Western Sahara had approximately 82,000 native inhabitants in 1970s and other independent figures that appeared after the Moroccan dispute and published by Jeune Afrique, show the total Sahrawi population at 73,497, of whom 38,336 were male and 35,161 were female, and of these 40,988 were under 18 years of age and 2,025 were over 70. Approximately one third of these were dragged to the Camps of Tindouf, and the other two-third remained in the mother country and have been joined by a great number of returnees who fled the camps. Both identification and data on the population would not be an easy exercise as expressed by the previous UN Envoy who declared that such action would be impossible to carry out. This was the reason that led James Baker to resign in 2004, leaving a general impression that only a political solution acceptable to both parties would resolve the conflict. This very point was also highlighted by the King of Morocco, amongst others, in a letter addressed to the SG Ban Kimono, as a reminder of this fact, which was delivered by the Moroccan Foreign Minister, Salaheddine Mezouar, on 14 March 2016.25

 

Over all, there have been three successes recorded, that is the cease-fire agreement, which remains in force to the present, the release of prisoners and family visits. However, no referendum has yet taken place, as it is completely rejected by Morocco and thought impossible by Baker and Ross. Nevertheless, Morocco submitted its own proposal, which is accepted by many as a serious alternative, but rejected by both the Polisario and Algeria, the core of the problem. This brings into question the raison d’être of Minurso and especially the useless administrative and political agents who were given the task to organise the defunct referendum there. So the settling of the Western Sahara may be seen as the failure of the UN on the one hand, and the Algerian-Polisario entente cordiale on the other, whereas Morocco is continuing ‘business as usual’ in its Southern Regions. Furthermore, the US, Spain, France, Saudi Arabia, the CCG countries, Jordan and many more are all supporting openly the Moroccan autonomy plan. Though some analysts still consider that Moroccan diplomacy, under the governments of both King Hassan II and Mohammed VI, have failed to reach a final solution and close the file for good. Nonetheless, the question of sovereignty over the region is still unresolved even after the last declaration of Hilary Clinton in Rabat favourable to the Moroccan plan and the last meeting that took place in March 2012. The last official declaration from the White House was made by President Barak Obama when he received King Mohammed VI on 22 November 2013. According to the White House Office, “The President pledged to continue to support efforts to find a peaceful, sustainable, mutually agreed-upon solution to the Western Sahara question. U.S. policy toward the Western Sahara has remained consistent for many years. The United States has made clear that Morocco’s autonomy plan is serious, realistic, and credible, and that it represents a potential approach that could satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity. We continue to support the negotiations carried out by the United Nations, including the work of the UN Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy Ambassador Christopher Ross, and urge the parties to work toward a resolution.’26 This declaration has been repeated several times and was confirmed by the White House after Ban Kamoon made his outrageous declarations.

 

Nevertheless, Ban Kamoon’s declaration in Tindouf in March 2016 changed all that and the role of the civil role of the MINURSO is brought to an end as the question of administering a referendum is no longer valid. Morocco has officially asked the SG of UN on 16 March 2016, for the immediate departure of the majority of civil employees and especially the MINURSO political units, as well as the freezing of the Moroccan voluntary contribution to the administrative salaries of those remaining in Morocco27. A list of those to leave immediately was issued on 17 March 2016. Furthermore, Morocco has revised all its dealing with the SG, including the Moroccan contribution to international security and is considering the possibility of recalling all or part of its Blue Helmets deployed abroad.

 

Morocco’s foreign policy is now very well anchored on two major priorities focusing on the legal Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, excluding any notion of a referendum, on the one hand, and create a revolutionary development process in all areas, to include the anchoring of democratic institutions, modernising education by giving priority to the National Amazigh language and reduce the foreign Arabic language, improving the provision of foreign languages as presented by Prof Belmokhtar, reinforce sciences by reducing useless Islamic studies, Arabic language, literature and poetry and other luxury subjects without any future of employment, the promotion of the synergy of industry and technology in all fields, infrastructure in all areas to complete electrification and water distribution available in rural isolated areas, major and rural roads, motorways, rail network, hospitals and others. To achieve its development goals, Morocco needs an advanced status within Europe as well as improving its position with the major powers, especially Russia and China, as well as consolidating and improving its third position with Brazil, and explore further breakthroughs with other major and minor partners of Morocco.

 

 

 

Dr Ben Kirat

Visiting Professor/Consultant/Journalist/Editor

Dr. Ben Kirat was educated at Oxford and Nottingham Universities, holds a Post Graduate Certificate in Education from Westminster College Oxford, an M.A in French Studies and a PhD in International Relations from Nottingham University. He has been working as an International Consultant for over 30 years, specializing in European-US affairs, Africa, the Maghreb and the Middle East. He was a Senior Lecturer at Northumbria University and M.A Supervisor in French Studies and held other post as Head of Department, Director of Studies and Marketing Manager in Colleges in Oxford and Europe and a Visiting Professor at Marbella University. Spain

 

17/03/2016