The United Nations has extended its mission in Western Sahara after
years of failing to achieve a breakthrough in the long-standing dispute
over the strip of land that lies between Morocco and Mauritania.
small wind-blown desert territory, with little water and virtually no
arable land, Western Sahara is at the center of the longest territorial
dispute in Africa. Since Spanish colonizers withdrew more than 30
years ago, Morocco and an Algerian-backed independence movement have
fought over the land.
UN reiterates call for negotiations
The U.N. Mission in Western Sahara was due to end Friday without agreement between the two sides.
has proposed an autonomous territory under Moroccan rule. The Western
Saharan independence group Polisario wants its own country.
The United Nations is urging both sides to continue negotiations.
secretary-general recommends the Security Council reiterate its call
upon the parties to negotiate in good faith without preconditions and
to show political will to enter into substantive discussions and ensure
the success of the negotiations," says Farhan Haq, a deputy U.N.
The U.N. mission began in 1991 to monitor a
cease-fire that marked the end of a guerilla war between Moroccan
forces and Polisario fighters. But since then, negotiations have come
and gone without resolution.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says change will only come with "realism and a spirit of compromise from both parties".
Ghaly, who represents Polisario in Algeria, says the group welcomes the
recommendation that both sides engage in informal negotiations before
the next round of talks, but he adds that the United Nations should take
into consideration human rights issues.
Almost half of the
indigenous population of Western Sahara lives in refugee camps across
the Algerian border, near the town of Tindouf.
Issue is key to regional security, development
U.S. foreign policy analysts say the Western Sahara is a major obstacle to regional security and economic development.
is the rock on the road that stands in the way of greater cooperation
among North African countries. Cooperation among the North African
countries is mutually beneficial for all of the countries in the region
which are suffering right now from lack of cooperation, particularly
economic ... So it is crucial to get this rock off the road," said
William Zartman, a Middle East and Africa specialist at the Johns
Hopkins Conflict Management Program.
Zartman says if North
African countries better cooperated with the United States and Europe
there would be a billion-dolllar increase in trade throughout the
He says Washington should push for a compromise in the form of an autonomous Western Sahara state within Morocco.
question is can we bring the two sides together on a compromise
solution. Not Morocco's total integration. Not Algeria's independence
for the region. But rather a compromise solution which can meet the
demands, the needs and the interests of both sides," he said.
Polisario has always rejected the offer of an autonomous state. The
group wants a referendum to determine the future status of the
territory, that includes the option of independence.
The United Nations mission in Western Sahara was originally charged with organizing that referendum, but it has yet to happen.