Western Sahara Negotiations Resume Amid Polisario Threats of Renewed Violence
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Peaceful political compromise is the only solution to Western Sahara dispute WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The third round of negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front over the future of the Western Sahara territory is scheduled to begin today in Manhasset, New York under the auspices of the United Nations, which has coordinated a ceasefire in the region since 1991. While Morocco has made clear that it is prepared to negotiate in good faith, recent threats to return to war by the Algerian-backed Polisario Front have cast a shadow over the negotiations. According to a recent Reuters article, Polisario official Mohamed Beissat said the Polisario is prepared to "pursue peace talks or resume armed struggle to speed up the process." In a later statement, Beissat asserted, "to win peace, you have to get ready for war. (...)that's the reality of the human race." Recent Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist attacks in Morocco and Algeria further underscore the need to condemn such violent and provocative statements and to achieve a peaceful outcome of the negotiations. "This is not the first time that the Polisario Front, with Algerian backing, has demonstrated a preference for threats of war over reasonable political compromise," said Robert Holley, regional expert and executive director of the Moroccan American Center for Policy. "However, given the heightened concerns in the US and Western Europe over what appears to be a rapidly expanding and deadly Al Qaeda threat in the Maghreb, the international community should take the Polisario threats seriously and reconsider what measures they should take in the United Nations to persuade the Polisario Front and Algeria that only through peaceful compromise can the Western Sahara issue be resolved." In April 2007, Morocco presented an autonomy initiative to the UN in hopes that it would act as a starting point for good faith peace negotiations to resolve the Western Sahara dispute. Washington has encouraged the parties to use Morocco's proposal as the basis for negotiating a compromise political solution to resolve the conflict, which would bring about greater economic stability, security and increased international cooperation in the region. The Moroccan American Center for Policy (MACP) is a non-profit organization whose principal mission is to inform opinion makers, government officials and an interested public in the United States about political and social developments in Morocco and the role being played by the Kingdom of Morocco in broader strategic developments in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. For more information, please visit http://www.moroccanamericanpolicy.org Below please find two recent articles that discuss the situation in Western Sahara and greater North Africa. W. Sahara independence movement to review strategy REUTERS By Hamid Ould Ahmed December 5, 2007 ALGIERS, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Western Sahara's independence movement Polisario said on Wednesday it was committed to a peaceful end to Africa's oldest territorial dispute but would consider returning to arms at its congress this month. International peacekeepers have kept watch over the resource-rich desert territory since 1991 when the United Nations brokered a ceasefire to end a low-level guerrilla war between Morocco and Polisario. The fighting broke out in 1975 when colonial power Spain withdrew from Western Sahara and Morocco annexed the northwest African territory rich in phosphates, fisheries and, potentially, oil. "Two main options will be proposed to the congress -- should we pursue peace talks or resume armed struggle to speed up the process?" said Mohamed Beissat, ambassador to Algeria of the self-proclaimed government for Western Sahara (SADR). Delegates at the congress, due to take place on Dec. 14-16 in the isolated, Polisario-controlled outpost of Tifariti, will look for ways to convince other countries to put more pressure on Morocco, said Beissat. "It (the congress) will be an opportunity for us to voice our aspirations," he said. "The Moroccan reticence pushes us to intensify our international campaign." The congress is held every three to four years. In two rounds of U.N.-sponsored peace talks this year, the United States and France lent strong backing to a Moroccan proposal to offer limited autonomy for Western Sahara but not outright independence. A rival plan from Polisario proposed a referendum with independence as one option. The U.N. Security Council has exhorted the two sides to put more effort into finding a solution and Beissat said Polisario had agreed to take part in a third round of peace talks set for Jan. 7-9 in Manhasset near New York. "We continue to show good political will as we have done before," he said. No country officially recognises Morocco's rule over Western Sahara but the U.N. Security Council is divided over a solution, with some nonaligned states supporting Polisario but France and the United States leaning towards Morocco. Washington wants the Sahara dispute settled so North African countries can focus on fighting terrorism. Morocco says independence would be unworkable as ethnic Sahrawis are spread across four states and a referendum is impossible to organise. (Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia) INTERVIEW-Polisario chiefs want armed element in strategy REUTERS By William Maclean December 10, 2007 ALGIERS, Dec 10 (Reuters) - The leaders of Western Sahara's independence movement Polisario want to prepare to resume armed struggle with Morocco even as they negotiate with Rabat over the desert territory, a Polisario official said on Monday. "To win peace, you have to get ready for war," the official, Mohamed Beissat, said in a Reuters interview. "It's very unfortunate that without war you will not have peace. But that's the reality of the human race." Beissat said the national secretariat of the movement would put the proposal to a vote by about 1,500 delegates at a policy-making congress of Polisario to be held on Dec. 14-16 in the Polisario-controlled outpost of Tifariti. It would be the first time preparation for war has been part of Polisario strategy since a U.N. ceasefire agreement in 1991 promised a referendum on the fate of the mineral-rich territory. That referendum never took place and Morocco now rules it out, saying autonomy is the most it will offer. After Spain abandoned its colonial rule in 1975, Morocco annexed the territory and fought Polisario in a low-level war for 16 years. "They (the secretariat) are proposing a combined approach for the continuation of the struggle," said Beissat, who is also ambassador to Algeria of the self-proclaimed government for Western Sahara (SADR) declared by Polisario in 1976. INTEGRATED APPROACH "This integrated approach is made up of preparations for the resumption of the armed struggle and at the same time the continuation of the negotiation process and the continuation of cooperation with U.N. efforts to find a political solution." "We think that none of these three means can substitute for the other but rather each reinforces the other." "No one should underestimate the ability of a people, small or big, to defend its legitimate recognised rights regardless of who does or doesn't support them ... I think this was made by the Timorese, the South Africans and by the Namibians. The congress is held every three to four years. The last one was in 2003. Beissat added: "The congress will announce the main political decision, which will bind the leaders." No country officially recognises Morocco's rule over Western Sahara but the U.N. Security Council is divided over a solution, with some non-aligned states supporting Polisario but France and the United States leaning towards Morocco. In two rounds of U.N.-sponsored peace talks this year aimed at breaking the stalemate, the United States and France lent strong backing to a Moroccan plan to offer limited autonomy for Western Sahara but not outright independence. A Polisario plan proposed a referendum with independence as one option. A third round is to be held Jan. 7-9. Morocco says independence cannot work as ethnic Sahrawis live in four countries and a referendum is impossible to stage. Polisario is widely considered the weaker party militarily. A 1,500 km (940 mile) sand wall separates a 100,000-strong Moroccan army from about 12,000 Polisario soldiers. Moroccan troops are stationed at regular observation points along the wall and live in small camps. Polisario is formed mainly of conscripts based in small units whose strength lies in knowledge of the land. Military experts say they would quickly adopt guerrilla hit and run tactics if conflict broke out. (Editing by Elizabeth Piper) This material is distributed by DJE, Inc. and the Moroccan American Center for Policy on behalf of the Government of Morocco. Additional information is available at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. SOURCE Moroccan American Center for Policy Tod Donhauser, +1-202-326-1829, email@example.com, for the Moroccan American Center for Policy
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