Morocco’s right to Sahara

By April 26, 2007Article, Atlantic Eye

Washington D.C., April 26 (UPI, The Washigton Post) — Ambassador Hassan Abouyoub, Jens-Hald Madsen and I stood on the portico of the magnificent Mirage Hotel in Marabata. The Atlantic waves hammered the steep cove below. Hassan and I took a smokers break, as Madsen noted the vast beauty in front of us.

This is the Morocco all must know: powerful, majestic and serene, said General Dieter Stockmann, who had come to collect us. We turned, sighed, and headed back into our deliberations about Morocco’s future.

The afternoon session was intense and complicated. The discussions had moved to Sahara, and the role Global Panel could , should, play. I noted that we had established a good rapport with some of Ban Ki-moon’s staff from his days as Korean Foreign Minister. We agreed to contact them and express our dissatisfaction with the UN’s treatment of Morocco. After all, the UN Secretary General was new and known as a man with a fair ear.

Discussions moved to the Baker Plan. Conceived and negotiated between 2000 and 2005, the plan was named after former U.S. Secretary of State and then UN Special Envoy James Baker. The first version, Baker I, was meant to give the people of Western Sahara self-determination and a large degree of autonomy within Morocco. Except for defense and foreign policy, all other capacities were to be in the responsibility of a local government. Morocco accepted the plan while Algeria and the Polisario front rejected it.

The second version, known as Baker II, was aimed at instituting Saharan self-rule in a Western Sahara Authority. After a period of five years, a referendum was to be held, with all populations of Western Sahara voting. The provision that the Western Sahara Authority would be elected only by a special voter roll alienated Morocco. After initial hesitations, Algeria and the Polisario accepted the plan, especially after Morocco rejected it.

The rejection of Baker I by Algeria and the Polisario front and Baker II by Morocco, prompted Baker to resign. He was the second UN envoy to Western Sahara to leave his post. Baker claimed it was no longer possible to implement the peace agreement provisions.

Those present disagree with Baker’s assertions. They see a new window of opportunity for negotiating the Moroccan Western Sahara. If Morocco were permitted to manage the issue, the Western Sahara issue would long have been solved, so a leading U.S. representative told me.

It remains undisputed that Spain’s restoration of Western Sahara to Morocco was legal. The supporters of the Sahrawi, who are mostly Algerians and European 60’s throw-backs, have used the question of human rights as an instrument for forcing the issue of Moroccan Western Saharan secession and independence.

The Moroccan proposal for extended autonomy submitted to the UN has been praised by experts – but rejected by both the Polisario and Algeria. The Bush administration has been hostile and has demanded direct negotiations without pre-conditions. Those present considered this a euphemism for keeping the Algerian-Polisario demands for secession and independence on the table.

Moroccan Western Sahara has been on the UN agenda since 1965.  There has been no marked improvement since then. If anything, things have gotten worse. But, Morocco knows it cannot complete the modernization of society and internal reforms while the Moroccan Western Sahara question remains unresolved.

There is no legal reason for Morocco to accept the secession of Moroccan Western Sahara – and UN formal resolutions do not demand this either. Morocco is ready to include UN recommendations regarding human rights in its internal reforms. However, it believes these reforms must be applied to all Moroccans – from the Mediterranean shores in the north, to the Mauritanian border in the south.

Morocco’s approach, which respects the letter of the UN resolutions, puts an end to the logic for Moroccan Western Sahara secession. As a result, Algeria and the Polisario – and their supporters – are being obstinate at the United Nations. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the Sahrawi consider themselves Moroccans and participate in state and political affairs.

King Mohammad VI is adamant about resolving the Moroccan Western Sahara issue. He sees the resolution as a prerequisite for completing the modernization of Morocco.  He has embarked on a process of fundamental domestic reforms and democratization. This process will climax in the Morocco’s September parliamentary elections.

The consensus at this Global Panel session is that the Moroccan Western Saharan question is best left to the principals involved. The United Nations, noted a ranking European diplomat, would best serve the needs of all concerned by removing itself from the entire question. The principal parties should negotiate among themselves and can call on external expert help should the need arise.

Rabat has promised to implement human rights, democratization and personal freedoms throughout Morocco – not just in Moroccan Western Sahara.

Let us give Morocco the time and authority to carry out these promises.

(UPI Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A venture capitalist with seats in Berlin and Prague, he is a member of the National Advisory Board of the U.S.Democratic Party.)