Progress in stalemate:

African Union to mediate between Western Sahara and Morocco

The African Union will facilitate direct talks between two of its member states, Western Sahara and Morocco, in order to secure a referendum on the status of Western Sahara, a territory that has been colonized by Morocco since 1975.
24. marts 2017

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The Western Sahara conflict has been unresolved and in a deadlock more or less since the ceasefire between Western Sahara’s liberation movement Polisario and Morocco in 1991.

According to Polisario, the main reason is that Morocco has blocked any attempts to implement the UN-sanctioned referendum on the status of the territory, while plundering Western Sahara’s resources together with an array of international companies.

The United Nations has looked by without being able to apply the international laws that Morocco are violating by doing so. 

Call for talks
But recently there has been progress in regard to Western Sahara. In December, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that two free trade agreements between the EU and Morocco do not cover Western Sahara and that the colony is not part of Morocco – something that the International Court of Justice had also concluded as far back as 1975.

And Monday the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, the standing decision-making body responsible for the maintenance of continental peace and security in the union,  stated that it would facilitate direct talks between its two member states, Western Sahara and Morocco, who rejoined the union in January.

Former President of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, will be “appointed as AU High Representative for Western Sahara with the mandate to facilitate the direct talks between the two Member States and to mobilize African and UN efforts required to this effect” with immediate effect.

The two parties are to “immediately engage in direct and serious talks, without preconditions,” the communique further stated. It furthermore appealed “to the UN and the larger international community to lend their full support.”

Goal is referendum and end to exploitation
The main goal, however, is seemingly the implementation of the UN-sanctioned referendum for self-determination that has been Polisario’s main demand since 1991. According to the communique, the union is “to take all necessary measures for the organization of a referendum for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.”

In January, the African Union Assembly had “expressed its deep concern over the current impasse in the peace process in Western Sahara, stressed the urgent need for renewed efforts to facilitate an early resolution of the conflict and reiterated its call to the UN General Assembly to determine a date for the holding of the self-determination referendum for the people of Western Sahara and protect the integrity of the Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory from any act which may undermine it,” the communique states.

A matter of African integration
The solution of the conflict is not only a matter for the two parties, says the African Union, but also a matter of African integration.

 “Fifty four years after the decision to decolonize Western Sahara, all efforts aimed at finding a solution have so far failed to achieve the expected results …  the prevailing deadlock in the peace process not only heightens tensions in the Territory, but also undermines efforts to promote continental integration,” the communique reads.

The African Union also says in it that it will “address the issue of the illegal exploration and exploitation of the Territory’s natural resources,” reopen an office in Western Sahara and undertake a field mission in the territory. It furthermore urges the UN to provide its peacekeeping mission in the territory, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara or Minurso, with a human rights mandate.

Morocco rejoined the African Union in January, having left in 1984, after the Saharawi Arab Republic (Polisario’s name for Western Sahara) had become a member of the predecessor to the African Union, the Organisation of African Unity.

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