Polisario and the Moroccan government will meet in Vienna to start informal talks after new US intiative. The new UN Special Envoy, Christopher Ross, travelled the region last month and expressed optimism after talking to the governments of SADR, Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Spain.
The last round of negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario, took place in March 2008 in Manhasset New York and didn’t bring any result. But the arrival of a new UN Special Envoy for Western Sahara and a change in US administration have left many hoping for a breakthrough in this protracted conflict.
According to news reported by the World Tribune last month, American diplomatic sources said the Obama administration has disassociated itself from a Moroccan plan for autonomy for Western Sahara. They said the White House no longer sees itself as committed to the endorsement by then-President George Bush of Western Sahara autonomy.
"The United States no longer supports or endorses the Moroccan autonomy plan," a diplomatic source said. "Instead, the administration has returned to the pre-Bush position that there could be an independent Polisario state in Western Sahara."
Both Polisario and the Moroccan government claim to look forward to the talks in August and hope to hear more about the alternative route suggested by the White House. Of course both of them are hoping that the plan Christopher Ross will put forward, will be in line with their respective position.
Taking into account the preparative groundwork currently undertaken by the Obama-administration and the UN Envoy, it would appear that two innovative elements will be part of the new approach.
First of all, Mauritania is once again – and rightfully so – considered as an implicated party to the conflict. This is confirmed by Ross’ recent visit to Mauritanian capital Nouakchott. This African country bordering Western Sahara occupied the south of the territory between 1975 and 1979, when it withdrew and recognised the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination. Moreover, many Sahrawi refugees live in the north of Mauritania.
Second, when Ross recently visited all the involved states to the conflict to check upon their willingness to participate in the envisaged informal discussions, he did not visit Paris. This could point to the fact that the USA does not consider French presence to be imperative in the upcoming negotiations, which are pending on the success of the informal meetings.
Sources close to Washington also reveal that the new plan does not refer explicitly to either of the solutions envisioned by the conflicting parties. There are however rumours about a phased solution, whereby neither autonomy nor independence will be topic of discussion during the first phase.
Since 1975, three quarters of the territory of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco. A majority of the population is still living in refugee camps in Algeria. Those who remained in their homeland are subjected to serious harassment from the Moroccan occupiers. For more than 40 years the Sahrawis have been waiting for the fullfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.
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