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Second round of UN sponsored talks on Western Sahara self determination set for March

A second round of internationally administered official talks between the Polisario Front and Morocco to solve the 43- year old political dispute on Western Sahara’s self-determination are set to take place next month, reports Al Jazeera.

The UN Special Envoy for Western Sahara, former German president Horst Koehler, told the United Nations that he planned to hold separate talks preliminary talks with all parties to prepare for a second around of official talks in March.

Speaking after a meeting of the United Nations last week, German Ambasador Christoph Hesugen said, “I do see hope. The unity of the Security Council is a very important factor. This is a conflict we can resolve.

South Africa’s Ambassador Jerry Matilja, said, “it's very positive that the parties are talking. What’s changed is that the parties respect each other.”

Speaking last week, the Polisario Front’s UN representative, Sidi Omar, said a referendum with independence as an option was a redline for the people of Western Sahara.

“The only way for Sahrawi people to exercise self-determination is through a referendum. Our position is very clear,” he said.

Morocco’s UN ambassador, Omar Hilale, told reporters last week that Morocco would offer full autonomy to the region but not independence.

“That’s the top. That’s the bottom. That’s everything with the sovereignty of Morocco. on this bases we are ready to negotiate it and give larges operative power for autonomy. Outside autonomy, nothing.”

At the last official round of talks in Geneva, the Polisario Front asked for Morocco to commit to confidence building measures to show Morocco’s commitment to finding a solution. Some of which included the release of political prisoners, and allowing international observers and human rights groups into the Western Sahara region.

The UN envoy has expressed there is a lot of support in the Security Council for confidence building initiatives that will be looked into at the next round of talks. Proposals of confidence building measures are expected to be looked into at the next round of talks.

The internationally administered talks come after the UN Security Council, last year, passed a resolution, extending the mandate of the UN Secretary General envoy on Western Sahara (MINURSO), to seek a political solution providing self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. 

Frente Polisario, the armed resistance movement seeking to secure national aspirations of the Saharawi people, took note of the resolution calling on the Security Council to “use its collective weight to advance direct negotiations between the two parties” with a view to enable “the free and full exercise” of the aspirations of the Saharawi people.

The Moroccan government also welcomed the resolution, with talks expected to take place under the auspices of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Speaking at the Security Council briefing on Western Sahara, the United Kingdom Deputy Political Coordinator, David Clay, said,

The UK was pleased to vote in favour of this resolution today, which supports the work of the UN Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, Mr Horst Koehler, and rightly focuses on progress that must be made towards a lasting and mutually acceptable solution that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. We are very grateful to our US colleagues for their efforts to ensure this resolution sends a signal of the Council’s strong support for political progress whilst underpinning the important work of MINURSO. The UK looks forward to the roundtable talks in December which will mark the start of a process and encourages all concerned to work constructively with the Personal Envoy in the spirit of compromise through the duration of the process to ensure a successful outcome.”

The last few years have seen Morocco labelled as China’s gateway to Africa. In 2016 Morocco hosted the first Sino-African Entrepreneurs Summit, in Marrakech. Later that year, Morocco’s King made a high level state visit to China and secured $10 billion investment plan for China to develop an industrial city in Morocco’s northern city of Tangiers. Morocco also dropped visa requirements for Chinese tourists in response to deepening relations. 

Morocco’s strengthening relations with modern day China stem from the inception of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Following the end of the civil war between PRC and Taiwan, Morocco was the second country in Africa to recognise the People’s Republic of China and establish diplomatic relations in 1958.

Despite China’s deepening economic ties with Morocco and historic trend of supporting non-intervention at the UN Security Council, it has continued to allow US backed Security Council resolutions on Western Sahara self-determination to pass by abstaining.