Possible solution to Western Sahara conflict
GENEVA: The U.N. envoy for Western Sahara said Thursday that a peaceful solution to the decadeslong conflict in the region was possible, after the parties met for the first talks since 2012.
“A peaceful solution to this conflict is possible,” U.N. envoy Horst Koehler told reporters in Geneva after Morocco and the Polisario Front representatives, which fought a war over the region until a 1991 cease-fire, took part in two days of roundtable discussions along with Algeria and Mauritania.
Koehler, a former German president, said he was “very pleased to announce that the delegations have committed to engaging further,” adding that a second roundtable session would take place “in the first quarter of 2019.”
“From our discussions it is clear to me that nobody wins from maintaining the status quo, and it is my firm belief that it lies in the interest of all to resolve this conflict
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita meanwhile told reporters that there had been “a very good atmosphere” during the talks.
But he stressed that “it is not enough … A good atmosphere should be translated into a genuine will” to change this situation. “This momentum will have an end if there is no political will,” he warned.
A former Spanish colony, phosphate-rich Western Sahara sits on the western edge of the vast eponymous desert, stretching around 1,000 kilometers along the Atlantic coastline, a prime fishing region.
When Spain withdrew from the North African territory in 1975, Rabat sent thousands of people across the border and claimed it was an integral part of Morocco.
The following year the Polisario Front declared Western Sahara the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, with support from Algeria and Libya, and demanded a referendum on self-determination.
Since then 84 U.N. member states have recognized the SADR.
But a stalemate ensued, and Morocco built razor-wire-topped concentric sand walls in the desert that still ring 80 percent of the territory it controls.
Under a 1991 cease-fire, the United Nations deployed a peacekeeping mission which has perpetuated the line of control, but the international community has long intended for a referendum to be held to decide the territory’s status.
Rabat currently rejects any vote in which independence is an option, arguing that only granting autonomy is on the table and that this is necessary for regional security.
Awaiting a settlement, between 100,000 and 200,000 refugees live precariously in camps near the town of Tindouf in western Algeria, not far from the Moroccan and Western Sahara borders.
The last direct talks were launched by the U.N. in 2007 but collapsed five years later over the territory’s status and the proposed referendum. –