UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for new talks over the long-running Western Sahara dispute, saying negotiations should include proposals from both Morocco and the Polisario independence movement.
The UN call for a restart to talks comes after months of tension in the disputed territory, which Morocco claims as part of its kingdom and Polisario says belongs to the Sahrawi people who fought a guerrilla war until a 1991 UN-backed ceasefire.
UN attempts to broker a settlement in the vast desert area have failed. It has been contested since 1975 when Spanish colonial powers left. Morocco claimed the territory while Polisario established its self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
“I intend to propose the negotiating process be relaunched with a new dynamic and a new spirit,” the UN chief said in his report presented for review to the Security Council on Monday.
“For progress to be made, negotiations must be open to both parties’ proposals and ideas. Algeria and Mauritania, as neighbouring countries, can and should make important contributions to this process.”
The 1991 ceasefire called for a UN-supported referendum on the region’s future, including the possibility of independence. That vote never happened. Morocco has since made its own proposal for autonomy under the kingdom’s sovereignty, but Polisario wants the UN referendum.
Since the end of fighting Western Sahara has effectively been split in two, part controlled by Morocco and part by Polisario forces, divided by a heavily mined earthen berm. Many Sahrawis live in refugee camps inside southern Algeria.
Last year, tensions spiked during a stand-off in the remote Guerguerat area. UN peacekeepers stepped in after Moroccan gendarmerie crossed beyond Moroccan-controlled areas in what they said was a road clearing operation, prompting mobilisation of Polisario forces.