UN council set for vote on preparing Western Sahara talks

The Western Sahara conflict has involved both Morocco and the Polisario Front. (AFP pic)

NEW YORK: The UN Security Council is expected to adopt a draft resolution this week that would press Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front to prepare for negotiations on ending the Western Sahara conflict, according to the text obtained by AFP on Monday.

The United States presented the proposed measure to the council ahead of Wednesday’s vote on renewing for one year the mandate of the small UN mission monitoring a ceasefire in Western Sahara.

The renewal of the MINURSO mission would be coupled with a firm appeal from the council to the parties to set their sights on a return to the negotiating table to seek a settlement to the decades-old conflict.

The council “emphasizes the importance of the parties’ commitment to advancing the political process in preparation for a fifth round of negotiations,” said the draft resolution sent to the council on Friday.

The fourth round of UN-brokered negotiations on a Western Sahara settlement was held in 2008.

The draft calls on “neighbouring states to make important contributions to the political process and to increase their engagement in the negotiating process”, a message directed at Algeria.

Algeria’s Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel this month said his government supports the Polisario but will not take part in negotiations, rejecting Morocco’s view that Algiers should be at the table.

Morocco and the Polisario fought for control of Western Sahara from 1975 to 1991, when a ceasefire was reached and the UN mission deployed to monitor the truce.

After a spike in tensions in a buffer zone set up under the ceasefire agreement, the proposed resolution would call on UN Secretary-General António Guterres to step in and “interview the parties in an effort to better understand” differences over the military arrangements.

Guterres last year appointed former German president and International Monetary Fund director Horst Köhler to be his new envoy for Western Sahara with a mandate to re-start negotiations.

Köhler is expected to make a new regional tour soon to speak to all sides and gauge prospects for re-starting talks, which some diplomats say could happen later this year.

The draft resolution sets no timetable for re-launching talks, but stressed “the need to make progress toward a realistic, practicable and enduring political solution to the question of Western Sahara.”

Morocco maintains that negotiations on a settlement should focus on its proposal for autonomy for Western Sahara and rejects the Polisario’s insistence on an independence referendum.