posted on TUE 27 NOV 2012 6:15 PM
Western Sahara Consultations

Tomorrow afternoon (28 November) Security Council members are set to receive a briefing in consultations on the status of negotiations on Western Sahara. The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, Christopher Ross, is scheduled to brief during the closed meeting and the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber, will make a statement as well. No action is expected following the briefing. (MINURSO’s current mandate expires at the end of April 2013.)

Council members are likely to be particularly interested in hearing Ross’s views on his recent trip to capitals in North Africa and Europe. These included meetings with King Mohammed IV of Morocco and Mohamed Abdelaziz, the Secretary General of the Polisario Front, the national liberation movement working for the independence of Western Sahara. (Abdelaziz, who is also president of the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, lives in exile in Algeria.) During what was his first visit to Western Sahara, Ross met local interlocutors and visited MINURSO in the city of Laayoune. In addition, Ross met with high-level officials in neighbouring countries, including Algeria, Mauritania, Spain and France. He intends to complete his trip by visiting other capitals of members of the Group of Friends of Western Sahara (the group comprises France, Russia, Spain, UK and US) and possibly Brussels.

It is likely that Ross will focus on the need for increased commitment to reach a resolution to the Western Sahara issue after little progress since the current negotiating process started in 2007. This is likely to include continued efforts to promote cooperation on the part of the Group of Friends as well as the international community. Ross is likely to highlight the need for what could be described as a new “shuttle diplomacy” approach to the negotiation process, comprising regular visits to—and consultation with— Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, and Western Sahara. It seems that several Council members who are engaged on the issue, including Morocco, welcome this fresh approach and the engagement of all relevant parties, acknowledging that the negotiation process needs new impetus. There is hope that such an approach could pave the way for moving into direct negotiations - although it remains unclear whether these would be informal or formal talks.

For those Council members following the situation closely, Ross’s recent visits seem to have largely been considered a success, particularly given that he met with a range of interlocutors representing several relevant parties. In addition to updates on his regional meetings, one of the issues that Council members might be interested in clarification on tomorrow are the reports of violence against protesters during his visit to Western Sahara. Another matter that at least one Council member may wish to raise is the progress of Morocco’s National Council on Human Rights and concerns regarding human rights monitoring.

Weisbrod-Weber, who assumed the role of Special Representative in June, is likely to brief the Council on progress in relation to MINURSO’s mandate. Some Council members have expressed their support for Weisbrod-Weber and for his proactive approach that is said to have led to improved morale and effectiveness in MINURSO’s work. While Council members welcome MINURSO’s improved interactions with a broad range of interlocutors, there are some diverging views among members on the nature of these interactions and the extent to which MINURSO can freely meet with relevant contacts in Western Sahara.

Of particular interest to Council members tomorrow will be Ross’s comments concerning Western Sahara’s vulnerability to threats related to the rise of extremist, terrorist, and criminal elements in Mali and the Sahel region, an area that is being followed closely by the Council. This regional component may raise the profile of the Western Sahara issue among the Council members who do not follow the situation closely. Traditionally, the Group of Friends—four of whom are permanent Council members—are most invested in the issue and obviously Morocco, as a current elected Council member, plays a prominent role in discussions of the issue.

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