Analysis. Protests in Ayoun turned deadly as UN emissary Horst Kohler visited Western Sahara to see the conditions on the ground for himself. The Polisario Front will only talk autonomy, but Morocco wants full control.

Sahrawis protest as negotiations deadlock over autonomy

Horst Kohler, the German UN emissary for Western Sahara concluded Saturday in Spain—a country that had colonized Western Sahara—his round of consultations in the region with the aim to relaunch the peace process between the Polisario Front and Morocco.

Over the preceding 10 days, he has visited Mauritania, Algeria, the territories of Rasd (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic) in Tindouf—a refugee camp with over 200,000 Sahrawi—and Rabat. Afterward, his journey continued to El Ayoun and Dakhla, occupied territories administered by Morocco, where numerous protests took place with the arrest of at least 100 people and the death of a Sahrawi activist. In El Ayoun, Kohler visited the headquarters of MINURSO, the UN’s official peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, and local politicians aligned with the Moroccan government’s positions for autonomy in the region.

Kohler also visited in order to verify the conditions on the ground for the population. The Polisario Front had requested such an investigation numerous times to the UN but had always been refused in the Security Council because of the French veto. Kohler ascertained the repressive measures imposed by the Rabat authorities on Sahrawi politicians and their difficult conditions of detention, with limit their most basic civil rights.

Before his departure, the German emissary made clear that his mandate was to “seek peace on the basis of a pragmatic solution guaranteeing the self-determination of the Sahrawi people.” Resolution 2414 of April 27 called for greater concreteness and responsibility on all sides, he said, implicitly referring to the vetoes put forward by both sides.

Indeed, Morocco refused to negotiate without the active participation of Algeria—regional sponsor of the Sahrawi people—and sets a plan for autonomy as the only option for the solution of the conflict.

On the contrary, the Polisario Front declared itself open to peace talks as declared by the President of Rasd and Secretary General of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, at the end of talks with the UN emissary. Ghali told the Algerian agency APS that “the Polisario Front, the only legitimate representative of Rasd, is available for direct negotiations with Morocco to ensure the right of self-determination of the Sahrawi people through a referendum.” He urged the Rabat government, “in accordance with international law, for a just and lasting peace in the Maghreb.”

After the resolution, which extended the MINURSO peace mission for another six months, until October, the peace process is in a moment of impasse due to the respective vetoes placed by both parties, with the risk of a possible conflict that could cause disastrous effects on the whole area.

In addition, Rabat has accused the Iranian government of providing financial and logistical support to the Polisario Front via the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah. These accusations, which have so far never been accompanied by concrete evidence, have led to the interruption of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Iran, and with serious repercussions for the already unstable relations with Algeria.

These diplomatic issues led the president of the African Union, Moussa Faki, to visit the Sahrawi territories and Morocco in June to try to bring the two parties back to the negotiating table. In this regard, the question of Western Sahara was to be partially discussed Sunday at the UA summit of Nouakchott, Mauritania. The Moroccan King Mohammed VI also participated, despite his opposition to the presence of Rasd and to the mediation of the UA itself.

The Moroccan monarch, with regard to the Sahrawi question, has already reiterated his position stating that “no solution to the Sahara question will be possible outside the full sovereignty of Morocco over that territory and only through the mediation of the UN.”

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