Africa: AU Sides With Western Sahara On Autonomy Despite U.S. Decision

Polisario fighters inside Western Sahara in 1977, resisting a Moroccan takeover.
12 December 2020

The African Union has maintained that the fate of Western Sahara must be decided by a referendum, even after the the US endorsed Morocco's control over the breakaway region.

Ebba Kalondo, spokesperson of AU Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat, says the AU supports the self-determination of Western Sahara through a free and fair referendum as decided by the UN Security Council.

"The position of the African Union remains unchanged, in conformity with relevant AU and United Nations resolutions," Ms Kalondo wrote on Twitter on Friday.

Both Western Sahara and Morocco are members of the AU although Morocco sees Western Sahara as part of its territory.

In 1982, Morocco quit the AU in protest after the then Organisation of African Unity (the precursor to the AU) admitted the proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as a member.

Morocco returned to the AU in 2017 after failing its bid to enter the European Union.

Israel relations

On Friday, Washington announced that Morocco should be the definitive government over Western Sahara.

This came after Morocco re-established relations with Israel, becoming the fifth member of the Arab League to do so in under three months.

The Polisario Front, which runs the government of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, which controls about a fifth of Western Sahara, has often operated from refugee camps in Algeria.

The entire Western Sahara region was initially a Spanish colony but was annexed by Morocco in 1975.

While the region seeks independence, Morocco has argued for some autonomy but while having it run as part of its territory.

UNSC resolution

A United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution proposed a referendum voted for by natives of the region, to decide between independence and integration into Morocco.

The Polisario Front favoured separation while the Kingdom of Morocco favoured integration.

However, Morocco has been accused in the past of sending non-natives to live in the region in a bid to weaken the vote. The referendum has never been held despite the AU's endorsement.

With the US support of Morocco, the poll is unlikely to occur and this may just reflect another form of defiance to the UNSC's decision, to which the US, as a permanent member, was part of.

In October, the US sided with a UNSC resolution that extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until October 31, 2021.

Resolution 2548 (2020) was endorsed by 13 votes with none against, while Russian and South Africa abstained.

The October resolution called for resumption of negotiations without preconditions. It noted the "need for a realistic, practicable and enduring solution to the Western Sahara question based on compromise".

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