The United Nations Security Council on Monday passed a resolution extending the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for six months, but there will be no immediate change on the ground in the divided region despite growing political momentum between the two sides to resolve differences.
The Security Council’s resolution noted “serious and credible” efforts to end the 30 year-old dispute, and to move on from a three-year political impasse during which there has been little progress in peace negotiations.
The Moroccan-administered Western Sahara territory is under dispute by the Saharawi people, who have maintained their right to self-determination from Morocco since the region won independence from Spain in the 1970s.
Morocco claims it has sovereignty over the phosphate- and possibly oil-rich territory because of “enduring ties” between the Sultan of Morocco and tribes living in the Western Sahara territory, an argument rejected by the International Court of Justice in 1975.
Caught up in the political deadlock are tens of thousands of civilians, including thousands of families divided by a barrier constructed through the territory, and refugees in Algeria. The UN reported last month claims of “brutal repression” and increasing human rights abuses in the territory.
Talks between Morocco and the Frente Polisario, which represents the Saharawi people, broke down three years ago. However, both parties have recently drawn up new peace plans.
Moroccan Ambassador Mostafa Sahel welcomed the council resolution. However, South African Ambassador to the UN Dumisani Kumalo cautioned against optimism.
“We made it really clear that autonomy is not self-determination. What is needed is that now both parties have put those plans before us, we would want to see the parties engage and negotiate on their plans,” he said.
Peter Van Walsum, UN personal envoy for Western Sahara, told reporters last week that he finds it “difficult to imagine” a solution without a referendum that gives independence as an option.