Western Sahara, located in the North African region is bordered by Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Atlantic Ocean. It is one of the most sparsely populatedterritories in the world and is in dispute. The country was a Spanish colony up until the UN called on Spain to decolonise the region in 1966.
But to this day Western Sahara is piggy-in-the-middle while the Kingdom of Morocco and Sahrawi national liberation movement Polisario Front fight, through the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) over control of the territory. Most of the territory is controlled by Morocco (backed by France) with the remaining regions controlled by the SADR (backed by Algeria).
Talks are underway, brokered by the UN, in an attempt to solve the dispute in a peaceful manner. The most recent round of talk between Morocco and the Polisario concluded on a positive note on 18 December. The talks were held in Manhasset, New York and spanned three days.
New approaches to the issue of control were discussed in an in-depth manner. According to Christopher Ross, UN Western Sahara Envoy, the hope is that a new dynamism will be instilled in the forthcoming 2011 negotiations. He said that the parties had submitted some good ideas to be developed over the next two rounds of unofficial talks on 21 and 22 January. But still both parties continue to reject the other’s proposals as any basis for future negotiations.
One of the issues hindering the talks revolves around the difficulty involved in hearing out representatives of the Saharan residents. This is because it is not accepted that the Polisario act as representative of the nation; but rather it speaks for Saharans staying in camps on Algerian land. The challenge then is for each party to hear one another out without disregarding what each party has to say. This was touched on in the talks, according to Moroccon Foreign Minister, Taieb Fassi Fihri, as they discussed “the means available through negotiations” to listen to one another and in finding a solution that warrants respecting the Moroccan sovereignty.
According to the Minister “Morocco underlined its full readiness to give a fresh chance for progress through creative techniques”. Fihri also added that the talks touched on “the fact that the Special Commissioner must not solely engage in negotiations rounds, but must be more dynamic by making numerous trips across the region so as to listen to the opinions of everyone who can assist in the process.”
The outcome of these recent talks is that the parties are after a solution that is in the best interests of the Maghreb region as a whole.
Polisario Co-ordinator to the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), Mohammed Khadad said that the new rounds of negotiations gave momentum to a scheduling of the largest number of meetings in an attempt to push the negotiations forward. This is of course “without detriment to the core of the issue, namely ending occupation, a problem to which the solution lies in the resolutions of the Security Council that grants the Saharan people the right to self-determination.” He said.
Both parties are suspicious of the other, especially as Morocco refuses to allow NGOs and the press access to the Sahara region. Only time will tell how this dispute will be solved.