/ 8 August 2008

Western Sahara independence ‘not reachable’

Dutch diplomat Peter van Walsum, the United Nations secretary general’s personal envoy to Western Sahara, believes the independence of the desert territory from Morocco to have become an unrealistic plan, the Spanish daily El Pais reported on Friday.

”The independence of Western Sahara is not a reachable goal,” Van Walsum told the daily.

Morocco’s proposal of an autonomy for the territory, which it annexed after the colonial power Spain withdrew from there in 1975, has been received favourably by the United States and France, but the Western Saharawi independence movement Polisario Front continues insisting on a referendum on independence.

The referendum is foreseen in a 1991 UN plan adopted when Morocco and Polisario agreed on a ceasefire following 15 years of war in the desert.

However, the referendum was never staged because of opposition from Morocco, which quarrelled with Polisario over who would be allowed to vote.

”Thirty years of weighty legal arguments from Polisario did not produce any result,” with the UN Security Council unwilling to ”impose a solution”, Van Walsum said.

”It is necessary to take into account the risk of creating false hopes and of prolonging the agony” of the 160 000 Saharawi refugees staying in Algerian camps, he explained.

Polisario accuses Van Walsum of siding with Morocco and is refusing to continue its year-long negotiations with Morocco as long as the diplomat is in charge, according to El Pais.

Polisario has threatened to resume its guerrilla war against Morocco. ”I think violence would not lead to an independent Sahara,” Van Walsum cautioned. — Sapa-dpa