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Western Sahara talks without agreement

18 février 2010

With the end of the second round of unofficial UN-brokered talks to resolve the Western Sahara conflict on February 11th came renewed commitments by all sides to continue negotiating as soon as possible.

The two days of talks in upstate New York were attended by Moroccan, Polisario, Algerian and Mauritanian delegations.

« Similar to the first unofficial talks in August 2009, this round was marked by a sense of serious commitment, mutual respect and integrity. Proposals of both parties were re-presented and were the theme of discussions, » the UN secretary general’s personal envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, said in a statement on the last day of the talks.

« Neither of the two sides accepted the proposal of the other, which will be the sole foundation for the coming negotiations. Both parties, however, re-affirmed their commitment to pursue negotiations, whenever possible« , added Ross, who plans to visit the region soon.

« The Moroccan side reiterated its political, legal and operational position with regard to the Polisario proposal [which] brought nothing new regarding the possibilities and mechanisms to lead to a definitive solution, because it adopts initial plans which proved unfeasible, » Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri told the press after the talks.

Ahmad Bukhari, representative of the Polisario Front at the UN, said in an opinion piece published in the Spanish-language daily El País on February 12th: « The autonomy proposal being offered as ‘the only solution’ to the conflict means legitimising the modification of the frontiers and make a blank slate of the principle of self-determination, perhaps without realising that this will not do anything but open a Pandora’s box in Morocco itself« .

Bukhari also called on Morocco to respect the commitments made before the UN Security Council related to co-operating with the international community to organise a self-determination referendum for Western Sahara residents.

« Both sides need to discuss the core of the conflict and seriously seek to arrive at a solution that would boost the right of self-determination, based on the proposals of both sides, » the Algerian minister in charge of Maghreb and African affairs, Abdelkader Messahel, said on Algerian television on February 8th.

Messahel said that a primary factor in the conflict is enhancing the principle of self-determination in the Western Sahara, and allowing people to decide their own future, which he called a « sacred right« .

In the wake of the talks, the deputy chairman of the Moroccan Institute for International Maghreb Relations, Abdelhafid Oualalou, told the press that his country had once again « extended its proposal, suggesting self-rule, while the Polisario Front rigidly insisted on self-determination through a referendum. Countries linked to the conflict, namely, Spain and France, expressed support for the Moroccan proposal. »

« We hope that both parties will end this chapter of conflicts and turn over a new leaf of co-existence, so as to build the Arab Maghreb region and enable it to face the current challenges, » Oualalou added. « All parties, including the European states, benefit from building a unified and stable Maghreb. »

By Naoufel Cherkaoui for Magharebia – 16/02/10

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