Peace in Western Sa­hara pos­si­ble: UN

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GENEVA — The UN en­voy for Western Sa­hara said yes­ter­day that a peace­ful so­lu­tion to the decades-long con­flict in the re­gion was pos­si­ble, after the par­ties met for the first talks since 2012.

“A peace­ful so­lu­tion to this con­flict is pos­si­ble,” UN en­voy Horst Koehler told re­porters in Geneva after Mo­rocco and the Polis­ario Front, which fought a war over the re­gion un­til a 1991 cease­fire, 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” 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 kilo­me­tres 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 (SADR), with sup­port from Al­ge­ria and Libya, and de­manded a ref­er­en­dum on self-de­ter­mi­na­tion.

Since then 84 UN mem­ber states have recog­nised the SADR.

But a stale­mate en­sued, and Mo­rocco built ra­zor­wire-topped con­cen­tric sand walls in the desert that still ring 80 per­cent of the ter­ri­tory it con­trols.

Un­der a 1991 cease­fire, 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 UN in 2007 but col­lapsed five years later over the ter­ri­tory’s sta­tus and the pro­posed ref­er­en­dum. — AFP

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