Morocco and Polisario at odds over disputed Western Sahara
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council called for “a realistic, practicable and enduring solution” to the future of the disputed Western Sahara on Wednesday, but the pro-independence Polisario Front again demanded a U.N.-organized referendum and Morocco declared “there will be no independence.”
The comments before and after the council approved a resolution extending the mandate of the U.N. mission in Western Sahara for a year reflected the huge gap between the two sides, and their growing frustration at the failure to resolve one of Africa’s longest disputes.
The vote was 13-0 with South Africa, which supports the Polisario, and Russia calling the U.S.-drafted resolution unbalanced and abstaining.
Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975 and fought the Polisario Front until the United Nations brokered a cease-fire in 1991 and set up a peacekeeping mission to monitor it and facilitate a referendum on Western Sahara’s future, which has never taken place.
Morocco has proposed wide-ranging autonomy for Western Sahara. But the Polisario Front insists the local population, which it estimates at 350,000 to 500,000, has the right to a referendum.
Last year, the council called for accelerated efforts to reach a solution to the more than four-decade dispute, but two rounds of talks in December 2018 and March 2019 brokered by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ personal envoy, Horst Kohler, made no headway.
Kohler, a former German president, resigned in May for health reasons and he has not been replaced, amid reported difficulties finding a high-level replacement that Morocco wants, which has stymied efforts to resume talks.
The resolution backs efforts by Guterres and “his incoming envoy” to solve the Western Sahara question and welcomes “the new momentum” from the two rounds of talks. It takes note of a 2007 Moroccan autonomy proposals and welcomes “serious and credible Moroccan efforts to move the process forward towards resolution,” and it takes note of the Polisario’s 2007 proposal for self-determination and a referendum, without comment.
The Polisario Front’s U.N. representative, Sidi Omar, disagreed with the reference to “new momentum,” calling the resolution “another step towards maintaining the status quo which Morocco and its backers are seeking, and to indeed make sure that the issue of Western Sahara slips into the shadows and is left on the sides.”
“This resolution is the very clear indication that we have returned to business as usual and we’re back to square one and that’s not our game,” he said. “Our game is to move this process towards a solution. Those who seek to maintain the status quo are not friends of Polisario.”
Omar said when the Polisario Front agreed on a cease-fire in 1990 it did so in exchange for a referendum of self-determination and “in the absence of a referendum, people, of course, will have to consider other ways to defend their rights.”
He said in response to a question that the Polisario Front as “a liberation movement” has the right to defend its rights by all legitimate means so a return to armed conflict “has always been a possibility on the table.”
Morocco’s U.N. Ambassador Omar Hilale said his government would respond to any renewed military action.
He accused the Polisario Front of lying to its people since 1975 and saying there will be independence for Western Sahara.
“There will be no independence, and never an independence,” Hilale told reporters.
“The only solution is autonomy, and sovereignty of Morocco,” Hilale said, noting that for two decades U.N. resolutions haven’t talked about a referendum.
“If I had just to say them a word in a message: Stop lying. No. Never independence and never any referendum. Be realistic,” he said.