Western Sahara: Is Christopher Ross’s Mediation Deadlocked or has it Failed?

The UN Secretary General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, has seemingly failed in his mediation mission to settle the territorial dispute opposing Morocco and Algeria through the Polisario separatist front.

Since the US diplomat Christopher Ross took over his predecessor, Peter van Walsum, in January 2009, the UN mediation was brought down to point zero.
Apart from the family visits exchange between the Tindouf camps and the Moroccan Southern provinces, this thorny issue has not moved an inch, comments a former Western diplomat familiar with the historical background of the conflict.

No direct negotiations were held after a dozen rounds of informal talks supervised by Ross and his shuttle diplomacy approach initiated in late 2012 proved unsuccessful and is currently stalled, said the New York-based diplomat.

According to the diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity, Christopher Ross failed to exploit as he should have the Moroccan proposal to grant broad autonomy to Western Sahara, the only new option put on the table, all the more so as the proposal has been backed by the international community, including the United States and France, both permanent members of the Security Council.

Ross could have suggested to Algerian leaders and the Polisario Front to submit this proposal to the Sahrawi refugees in the Tindouf camps to have an idea about their standpoint. Also, he could have exerted more pressure on Algeria and the Polisario so they allow the thousands of Sahrawi refugees to freely decide to stay in Tindouf, to return home to Western Sahara or to go elsewhere.

The self-determination referendum option claimed by the leaders of Algeria and the Polisario was automatically excluded after UN agencies failed to conduct the complex operation to identify who are the genuine natives of the disputed Sahara region entitled to participate in the referendum, he said.

Today, the whole settlement process of the forty-year old conflict is deadlocked because of the mismanagement of the case and because of the stubbornness of the leaders of the Polisario and Algeria who stick to an obsolete option, deplored the diplomat.

So, how long will it take to the thousands of Sahrawis before they can see some light at the end of the tunnel? And so far, even the UN has been unable to give an answer to this tough question.

06/11/2014