Magharebia (Washington DC)

North Africa: UN Western Sahara Envoy Tours Maghreb

Rabat — Amid unprecedented security challenges in the Sahel and the Maghreb, the Western Sahara conflict "cannot be allowed to stand still", the UN envoy says.

United Nations envoy Christopher Ross on Thursday (November 15th) wrapped up his month-long regional tour aimed at rekindling stalled Western Sahara peace talks.

"The goal of my mission, as set in UN and Security Council resolutions, is to facilitate negotiations between the two sides to ensure that a lasting, acceptable and fair political solution is reached," he said.

"However, the negotiations that were held based on the Moroccan and Sahrawi proposals didn't make any progress."

The tour that took Ross to Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, France and Spain aimed to evaluate five years of negotiations, examine causes of failure to make progress and look ahead to see how they can change.

According to the envoy, the idea was to amend the approach of negotiations in order to achieve something tangible toward the desired goal, which is self-determination of Sahrawi people.

Ross said he backed a solution that would allow building a unified Maghreb and enhance security and stability in the Maghreb and the Sahel.

In a region in transition, a conflict such as the one in the Western Sahara "cannot be allowed to stand still", Ross said. He urged the parties "to move swiftly into serious negotiations".

Moroccan King Mohammed VI received the UN envoy on October 29th. The sovereign reiterated the kingdom's commitment to finding a solution to the conflict over Western Sahara "as part of Morocco's proposal for general autonomy", according to MAP.

Morocco is committed to establishing "brotherly relations with (neighbour) Algeria" in order to "build a united Maghreb... amid security threats for the Sahel-Sahara region".

A few days after the meeting, Mohammed VI said in a speech to mark the 37th anniversary of the Green March that the autonomy plan was "consistent with international legitimacy" and "would grant all the region's populations extensive administration of their local affairs".

"Yet, because of the other parties' lack of goodwill and persistent schemes and maneuvers, the momentum created by this bold initiative through the fresh round of negotiations it triggered has not so far led to the desired final and mutually acceptable political solution," the king said.

He added, "In spite of these desperate attempts, Morocco confirms its keen desire to proceed with the negotiations on the basis of the criteria and objectives defined by the Security Council, and which have been confirmed to me by His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General."

"Furthermore, I would like to remind you of the clear position recently stated by the UN Secretary-General, which stresses that, in addition to pursuing the negotiating track, one of the missions of the United Nations is to promote Moroccan-Algerian relations. Morocco has been calling for the normalisation of these relations, including the opening of borders, a request that has also been made by a number of countries and international organisations," Mohammed VI concluded.

Ross also spent three days in Laayoune, where he met with members of pro-Moroccan groups as well as pro-Polisario associations. He also met the local governor and tribal leaders, AFP reported. The envoy then headed to Tindouf, Algeria, before landing in Nouakchott on November 5th.

Ross expressed hope about Mauritania's role in resolving the dispute. "My talks with the prime minister were fruitful, and I'm sure that he will help me push the process forward soon," he told ANI after meeting with Prime Minister Moulaye Ould Mohamed Laghdaf.

The envoy's regional visit can be read in view of the latest developments in Sahel and the on-going efforts to reach a solution for the complex security situation in the region, according to security analyst al-Mokhtar al-Salem.

"Therefore, it has become necessary to resolve the Sahara issue which adds to the complications of security file due to poor security co-ordination, or even lack of security co-ordination, between Morocco and Algeria in particular," he told Magharebia.

Moroccan journalist Badr Mohamed described the Algerian-Moroccan dispute as "primarily political".

"As to peoples, they have similar views and feelings, and therefore, it is unjust to prevent communication between peoples who are linked by interests and social relations," he told Magharebia. "Take, for example, the Algerian-Moroccan border area, you would find that residents there long to meet each other and seek to exchange greetings."

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