The Morocco-proposed autonomy initiative for the Sahara resounds with force in the annual report on Western Sahara that the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres submitted to the Security Council on April 10.
The new UN Secretary General stressed the need to “define the form and nature of self-determination” in an innovative and daring approach that is completely different from that of his predecessor, Ban Ki-Moon and his personal envoy, Christopher Ross.
In his report, Antonio Guterres proposes to revitalize the negotiation process with a new dynamic and a new mindset … with the aim of achieving a mutually acceptable political solution leading to the settlement of the dispute over the final status of Western Sahara, including an agreement on the nature and form of the exercise of self-determination.
Antonio Guterres broke with the approach of the Korean Ban Ki-Moon who showed blatant bias in favor of one of the conflicting parties, namely the Algeria-backed Polisario. Guterres was more pragmatic and abstained from making any reference in his report to the “independence” of the Sahara or even to the option of self-determination referendum, an option that is fiercely upheld by the Polisario leaders and their Algerian mentors.
The UN chief, by calling for a “redefinition of the concept of self-determination” while inviting the parties concerned to be “realistic”, has taken up the idea of a mutually acceptable political solution and the need for compromise.
He referred to the post-2006 period and to the concept of realism introduced in 2008 by the former UN mediator, the Dutch Peter Van Walsum, who came to the conclusion that “the independence of Western Sahara was not a realistic option”.
Over the years, the Security Council has provided guidance that negotiations should take place without preconditions, in good faith, given the efforts made since 2006 and subsequent developments, recalls Guterres, once again alluding to the autonomy proposal formulated by Morocco in 2007. The proposal was qualified as “serious, credible and feasible” by at least two permanent member countries of the Security Council, the United States and France.
Unlike Ban Ki-moon, the former Portuguese Prime Minister has a thorough knowledge of the Western Sahara issue and as he had served for two five-year terms as High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) he had had the opportunity to get close to the Algeria-based Tindouf camps population. He therefore knows that Algeria is involved in the Sahara dispute.