UN changes Sahara report that leans towards Morocco

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged on Monday he had spoken out of turn in a report that leaned towards the Moroccan side in protracted negotiations with the Polisario movement over western Sahara.The two sides met earlier this month near New York for two days of groundbreaking UN-sponsored talks, the first meeting in seven years, aimed at ending a 32-year-old dispute over the former Spanish territory. Negotiations resume on August 10 at the Greentree estate in Manhassat, Long Island.

Morocco wants talks about self-rule for the territory under Rabat’s sovereignty, but the Polisario Front, the rebel movement seeking independence, has demanded a referendum that would include the option of full independence.

On Friday, Ban’s office issued a report that recommended the Polisario “could be asked to test Morocco’s readiness to take part in serious, constructive negotiations” by making “concrete proposals to clarify or amend Morocco’s limited autonomy proposal”, but leaving aside final status questions.

There was no mention of Polisario’s proposals, suggesting that Morocco’s plan was the only viable one under discussion.

“If the negotiations are to lead to a positive outcome, both parties must recognise that the question of sovereignty is, and always has been, the main stumbling block in this dispute, and that it is in this highly sensitive area that a solution will need to be found,” Ban said in the report.

But the new report on Monday dropped these paragraphs and made clear that the 15-nation UN Security Council had requested that Ban’s office arrange for the talks “without preconditions” and with a view to achieving a “lasting and mutually acceptable political solution”. Still, UN officials would not say whether they had discarded the concept of negotiating on the basis of Morocco’s plan. Instead a UN statement said it was “in the best interests of the process” for Ban’s special envoy, Peter van Walsum, to brief the Security Council orally next week “rather than in a public report.

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