Morocco accused of blocking UN visit to Western Sahara

Jul 5, 2022, 2:34 AM | Updated: 6:29 pm

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The pro-independence Polisario Front accused Morocco of obstructing a visit by the U.N. envoy for the disputed Western Sahara region and called on the United Nations to reveal the reasons why.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric had said Friday that the secretary-general’s personal envoy, Staffan de Mistura, would “conduct a new phase of visits” to all concerned parties in the region “in the coming days,” starting in the Moroccan capital of Rabat on Saturday.

But Monday, Dujarric said in a note to U.N. correspondents that de Mistura “has decided not to proceed with a visit to Western Sahara during this trip, but looks forward to doing so during his upcoming visits to the region.”

The Polisario Front’s U.N. representative, Sidi Omar, responded in a statement obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press saying the group “deeply deplores” that Morocco “has once again resorted to obstructionism and delay tactics to prevent the personal envoy … from conducting his first visit to the territory.”

Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony believed to have considerable offshore oil deposits and mineral resources, in 1975, sparking a conflict with the Polisario Front. The U.N. brokered a 1991 cease-fire and established a peacekeeping mission to monitor the truce and help prepare a referendum on the territory’s future that has never taken place because of disagreements on who is eligible to vote.

The Polisario Front ended the 29-year cease-fire with Morocco in November 2020 and resumed its armed struggle following a border confrontation with Morocco that continues today.

Morocco has proposed wide-ranging autonomy for Western Sahara. But the Polisario Front insists the local population, which it estimates at 350,000 to 500,000, has the right to a referendum.

Omar said in the statement that Morocco’s obstruction of de Mistura’s visit “demonstrates beyond any doubt that the occupying state has no political will to engage constructively in the U.N. peace process in Western Sahara.”

The U.N. spokesman insisted in response to a question Tuesday that de Mistura “did not lose freedom of movement” and said “this was not billed as a regional visit.” Dujarric said the U.N. envoy has made clear that “there will be, in time, visits to other parties.”

Dujarric said de Mistura had “a useful meeting” Tuesday with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita on the political process on Western Sahara.

Morocco’s Foreign Ministry said that at the meeting with de Mistura, “the Moroccan delegation reiterated its support for a political resolution that is solely based on the Moroccan autonomy initiative.”

The ministry said Morocco also reaffirmed its commitment to roundtables and the U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in October extending the peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara and calling for a political resolution that is “realistic, pragmatic, sustainable and based on compromise.”

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