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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

No gains in Western Sahara talks as Morocco pushes for wider representation

As the latest round of informal talks on the Western Sahara conflict came to an end on Tuesday with no breakthrough on reconciliation efforts, Morocco pushed for widening the representation of the Sahrawi people beyond the rebel Polisario Front.

“There must be legal representatives of the people living in the territory to give a real picture of the situation and of Morocco so that the picture doesn’t remain that the Polisario represents the so-called Sahrawis,” said Foreign Minister Taib Fassi Fihri of Morocco.

The two-day negotiations, held in the New York suburb of Manhasset, came at the invitation of Special Envoy Christopher Ross of the United Nations and included the participation of delegations from Algeria and Mauritania.
The parties discussed new ideas put forward by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations in his latest report on the situation, which include a proposal to widen the negotiation process to a broad cross-section of the population of Western Sahara inside and outside the territory, Mr. Ross said in a statement.

In late April, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Western Sahara (MINURSO) for another year and stressed the importance of improving the human rights situation, but stopped short of calling for the implementation of a human rights monitoring team in the region.

Meanwhile, the Polisario Front has called for a referendum on self-determination to resolve final status issues.

“It is imperative for the international community to stand with us, especially the Security Council to push both sides to move toward a solution with the opinion of the Sahrawi people in consideration to decide their future,” the Secretary General Khatri Adu of the Polisario Front said Tuesday.

Critical of France’s long-standing support for Morocco’s policies on the territory, Mr. Adu called on the permanent-member of the Security Council to help both sides broker a solution to the conflict.

“Unfortunately, France throughout this time played a negative role,” he said. “The continuation of the conflict as the UN secretary general said it threatens peace and security in the area.”

A former Spanish colony, the Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco in 1976. The UN has continued to broker informal talks between representatives of Morocco and Polisario Front since 2007 on the status of the territory.

As the next round of informal talks are scheduled to take place mid July 2011 in New York, the UN special envoy said each party continued to reject the proposal of the other as a sole basis for future negotiations.

(Talal Al-Haj, Chief of Al Arabiya New York/United Nations Bureau,

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