Morocco has participated June 18-19, 2007 in Manhasset New York suburbs through a senior delegation, including the Council, in the first round of negotiations for a final settlement of the Sahara issue, which is being held at the invitation of the UN Secretary-General, according to the UN Security Council Resolution 1754
Corcas chairman interviewed by “Al Ahdath Al Maghribiya” from Manhasset
Khalihenna: Algeria says something and does something else and this duplication of speech
Q / Where did the first round of negotiations stop and where will the second round in next August start?
Morocco-Polisario talks: Moment of truth has come, says Moroccan Minister
The Moroccan Minister for the Interior on Monday underlined the need to reach a political solution to the three-decade old dispute over the Sahara, making it clear that the moment of truth has come for both parties to tackle the issue with "good faith."
"The moment of truth has come. There can be no more hesitation, prevarication, obduracy, manoeuvring or tendentious interpretations," said Chakib Benmoussa at the opening of the first round of talks between Morocco and the Algerian-backed separatist movement "Polisario", held under the auspices of the United Nations.
These talks are also attended by representatives from neighbouring Algeria and Mauritania. They are held in implementation of the resolution 1754 passed April 30 by the U.N Security Council in an attempt to put an end to the dispute over the former Spanish colony.
"Breaking with past practice, resolution 1754 is now the new and only reference text whereby the international community is calling upon us to enter into negotiations, and to reach consensual agreement in good faith, the minister said adding that “a consensual solution means that there is no room for unilateral solutions.” “That is why Morocco suggested its Initiative, to serve as a basis for negotiations, not be an end in itself,” he explained in an allusion to Morocco’s initiative to grant substantial autonomy to its Southern Provinces, known as the Sahara. This initiative, he insisted, “is not a static, non-negotiable proposal. It is rather an open initiative which can be developed and enriched within the framework of consensual consultations.”
Mr. Benmoussa underlined that a just settlement means a solution where there is no winner and no loser. “Such a solution would guarantee a modern, sound form of self-determination, which preserves the unity and security of states,” he went on to say.
Touching on self-determination, a right the Polisario has been calling for, the Moroccan minister said that “as stipulated in the Security Council resolution, only the negotiated agreement will define self-determination.” In this respect, he explained, and given Morocco’s historical rights and the sacred ties binding it to its Sahara, autonomy - as practised in democratic countries and defined in modern law – constitutes an appropriate tool for the exercise of this right, which Morocco is advocating.”
Mr. Benmoussa also made it clear that the negotiation process, that started Monday, “means we have to face up to our responsibilities vis-à-vis future generations.”
“Do we want the humanitarian tragedy endured by our Sahrawi brothers in the camps to get worse? Certainly not, said the minister in an allusion to the Sahrawi populations living in the Polisario-controlled Camps of Tindouf, South-western Algeria.
He warned against tensions in the region that could pave the way for balkanization, underling that Morocco “is keen to protect our region against divisions and instability, and to ensure its unity in this era of strong blocs and coalitions.”
He also warned against the threat of organized crime and terrorism which, he said, is getting bigger and bigger.
The Moroccan minister conceded that “this will be a long, strenuous process. But we are determined to forge ahead and to make it succeed, thanks to a constructive spirit, wisdom, clear-sightedness and a prospective vision.”
He then called on “our Algerian brothers, whom we expect to understand that all Moroccans are firmly attached to their immutable values, particularly the Kingdom’s sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity. We will continue to reach out to them, whatever the hardships. Let us, therefore, pledge to work hand in hand, for unity is strength,” the minister told the representative of Algeria, a country which, although, it hosts the Polisario separatists providing them with financial, political, logistic and military support, continues to deny any involvement in the conflict. “We expect the sister nation Algeria to do all it can to make a constructive contribution to the efforts being made to find a solution to this artificial dispute. We also hope it will opt for wisdom and rise to this historic moment,” he said.
Echoing him, Khalihenna Ould Earrachid, chairman of the Royal Consultative Council for Saharan Affairs (Corcas)- representing the different Sahrawi tribes- urged “my brothers, the members of the Polisario Front to act judiciously and wisely, seek good guidance and comply with the call of wisdom.”
“I call on you to make relevant, realistic, but dignified decisions which will bring joy to every Sahrawi household and tent, and to the heart of every Sahrawi child, youth, man, woman and elderly person, wherever they may be. We want to take this region of ours forward, relying on a promising, future-oriented vision, for the sake and in the best interest of the whole region. Let us not disappoint the hopes our people have pinned on all of us.” He concluded.
On his part, Mr. B. Lynn Pascoe, U.N Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs, said this meeting ushers a new era in the search of solution to the Western Sahara conflict.
Speaking on behalf of the U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, Mr. Pascoe called on the parties to proceed with “good faith" and to establish an “atmosphere of mutual trust”.
“Time has come to find a solution,” he said before reiterating the U.N. commitment to support this process “in the best possible way”.
It is expected that at the end of this first round of talks, the UN Secretary General will make a report to the Security Council by the end of the month on the progress achieved.
First round of talks on Sahara 'opportunity to turn page of the past,' Moroccan minister
The first round of the negotiations on the Sahara, between Morocco and the Algeria-backed "Polisario" separatist, which took place on June 18 and 19 in Manhasset, New York outskirts, were an opportunity to turn the page of the past, said Morocco's Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa.
The two-day meetings allowed for recalling the general framework of the talks, following the Security Council's adoption on April 30 of resolution 1754, which described the Moroccan initiative to grant autonomy to the Sahara, Morocco's Southern Provinces, as "serious and credible," Mr. Benmoussa told the press at the end of negotiations.
The official underlined that the first round, held under the U.N. auspices, made it possible for the Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS) to voice the viewpoint of the majority of the Sahrawis living in Morocco. It was also an opportunity to explain Morocco's proposal and to say that the hand of the north African kingdom is held out so that this dialog is made in an open process, he added.
For his part, CORCAS chairman, Khalihenna Ould Errachid described the talks as a “success” since “we reached a situation where dialog was established.” He voiced hope that this dialog “would finally lead to an honorable deal.”
Mr. Ould Errachid underlined that Morocco proposed “important and fundamental elements to end, once and for all, this conflict.”
The parties have agreed to resume talks in Manhasset in the second week of August, according to a press release of the United Nations Secretary general's Personal Envoy for the Sahara, Peter van Walsum issued on Tuesday.
Earlier, U.N Secretary General's Spokesperson Michèle Montas described as "very difficult" the talks, also attended by representatives form neighboring Algeria and Mauritania who were “consulted separately.”
Morocco and the Polisario are disputing control of this former Spanish colony, ceded to Morocco in 1975 under the Madrid Accord.
At the opening session of the negotiations, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe said the talks marked the beginning of a new phase in the search for a solution to Western Sahara, and expressed the firm commitment of the United Nations to assist in the negotiations. He also stressed that the stalemate is becoming intolerable and that the dispute over Western Sahara must be brought to a conclusion through a mutually agreed solution.
Besides Mr. Benmoussa, the Moroccan delegation included Deputy Foreign Minister, Taieb Fassi Fihri, Deputy Interior Minister, Fouad Ali Al Himma, chairman of the Royal Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS), Khalihenna Ould Errachid, head of Morocco’s Intelligence (DGED), Mohamed Yassine Mansouri, and Morocco’s ambassador to the U.N. El Mostafa Sahel).
UN-led talks on Sahara, main achievement
Talks on the Sahara, held on June 18-19 in Manhasset in the suburbs of New York, constitute a main achievement, said UN Secretary General spokesman, Michèle Montas.
"The fact that the parties have met and talked over two days is a main achievement and the fact that they have decided to meet again is also a main success," affirmed the spokesman at a press briefing at the United Nations headquarters.
"It is a long and difficult process and the fact that it has started is a positive thing," he underlined.
The first round of talks on Sahara between Morocco and the Algerian-backed separatist movement "Polisario" concluded, on Tuesday, with the parties promising to resume the negotiations again in August, in a bid to reach a political solution to the 32-year old dispute over the former Spanish colony that was ceded by Spain to the North African country by virtue of the 1975 Madrid Accords.
The first round of these talks, attended by representatives from neighboring Algeria and Mauritania who were "consulted separately, was held in accordance with Security Council resolution 1754 which called on parties to enter into negotiation without preconditions and in good faith."
The Moroccan delegation included Deputy Foreign Minister, Taieb Fassi Fihri, Deputy Interior Minister, Fouad Ali Al Himma, chairman of the Royal Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS), Khalihenna Ould Errachid, head of Morocco's Intelligence (DGED), Mohamed Yassine Mansouri, and Morocco’s ambassador to the U.N. El Mostafa Sahel).
Sahara dispute: Morocco 'confident' in the negotiation process under way
The Moroccan delegation to the UN-led negotiations on the Sahara that wrapped up Saturday in Manhasset, has voiced "optimism" and "confidence" in the negotiation process under way while regretting at the same time the stubbornness of the separatist movement "Polisario" which persists in refusing to move forward.
"We consider that the first round has been a round of contact, this second as a round of exchange on the mechanisms to implement resolution 1754 of the Security Council and on the issues related to autonomy", said the delegation chief, Minister of the Interior Chakib Benmoussa.
Speaking at a news conference, at the end of the second round of the Manhasset talks (August 10-11), the minister said Morocco agreed on the principle of a third round whose venue and date have not yet been set because of the September 7 elections that should lead to the formation of a new government.
“We are confident in this process and we hope the next round will enable to push forward the Polisario stance which has not changed”, Mr. Benmoussa said.
On the role to be played by neighboring countries such as Algeria and Mauritania that have also attended the two rounds of negotiations although they have been consulted separately, the minister described as “important” their presence.
“Algeria is concerned by this dispute as it hosts the Tindouf Camps (where tens of thousands of Sahrawis are held against their will) and we know the influence exerted by this country on the Polisario,” the minister added.
As to Mauritania, Mr. Benmoussa said this country is linked to this region because of the number of Sahrawis living on its territory.
He however deplored that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) could not conduct a census of the populations living in those camps in dire conditions.
Echoing him, chairman of the Royal Consultative Council for Sahara Affairs (CORCAS) representing the different Sahrawi tribes, Khalihenna ould Errachid, insisted that Morocco came up with an “innovative and bold” initiative, in an allusion to Morocco’s proposal to grant a substantial autonomy to its Southern Provinces, the Sahara. The former Spanish colony was ceded to Morocco in 1975 under the Madrid Accords, but the Polisario, backed by Algeria rejected these agreements and started laying claims to the territory.
This initiative, he said, constitutes a “win-win” solution that, unfortunately, the other party (the Polisario) did not grasp.
For his part, deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, Taieb Fassi Fihri, recalled that Morocco’s initiative was welcomed as “serious and credible” by the Security Council and by the international community.
He wished that the Polisario delegation reconsiders its stances during the next round of talks that have been so far, facilitated by the UN Secretary general’s Personal Envoy Peter Van Walsum.
The UN official said at the end of the second round of these talks that the parties to the Sahara conflict have "acknowledged that the current status is unacceptable" and agreed to continue negotiations in the future in a bid to reach a final solution to the 32-year-old dispute.
Addressing the press conference, chief of Morocco’s Intelligence Mohamed Yassine Mansouri, said that despite the “biased” statements made by the Polisario to the press, “this second round of talks was positive”.
He voiced Morocco’s resolve to move forward “with patience” for, he went on, “we want that this autonomy initiative be successful”.
A / negotiations halted at self-determination, its meaning, its philosophy and we did not go into depth as part of the whole. Of course, as you know, Morocco has clear justifications and concepts and in conformity with international law relating to self-determination. So we are not scared to raise this issue and we are ready to discuss it from all aspects. But what I can say is that we did not discuss a specific point. Every party talked about its principles and its project. We extensively talked about autonomy plan and everything revolving around it such as self-determination and respect of international law and international legality and respect of crietria relating on the seriousness of autonomy. Of course, we underlined that the Sahara issue is unique with particular nature and cannot be compared to other issues whether relating to historical legitimacy or the ties between Moroccans and the Sahara and the old rights. This is why it should have special treatment. We have talked about other examples but the Sahara issue is special. Therefore, we have to find a specific solution. Polisario Front is a totalitarian, political and military movement and is not familiar with discussions that end with reconciliation. we hope the negotiations will help them learn compromise and consensus.
Q / technically how were the meetings conducted were interventions distributed? And who spoke more?
A / time was supervised and every party spoke according to its capacity. I believe that every party spoke enough and the Moroccan delegation spoke extensively on the aspects which we wanted to stress in this session.
Q / What role played by Algeria during negotiations? Did you notice any pressure or consultation between Polisario and Algeria in the first sessions?
A / of course, as you know, Algeria participates in the negotiations like Mauritania, but Algeria says something and does the opposite. Everyone knows what are the links between Polisario and Algeria, at least those related to hosting Polisario and assisting it politically and diplomatically. I believe that the role of Algeria was apparently cooperative but had not changed in substance.
Q / What role played by international powers, especially the United States and France during the negotiations?
A / did not have any role in negotiations because they were based on resolution 1754. We did not need this role at this level, especially in the presence of the Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary-General to the Sahara, Peter van Walsum. In any case, everybody was aware of the problem complexity. Referendum and voting are not solution. Parties must agree and waive the tops of their claims.
Q / were there moments of tension that witnessed strong nerves during negotiations? , And what are the points that generated such a tension?
A / no doubt, when Morocco defended its positions seriously created tension and we felt they were not in comfortable position.
Q / Strategically, can Morocco bet in the second round on divisions in Polisario delegation and the outbreak of a dispute between its elements?
A / No, this is something else, divisions do not concern the delegation. Divisions in the Polisario Front relate to Polisario as a whole not the delegation. If Polisario leadership continues, and I stress that there is a difference between the leadership and the Front regarding intransigence and non-realism and sticking to the impossible, this will have negative repercussions on the situation in the camps and among those whose who were supporting Polisario. Many people in the camps under Polisario want a decent solution and hope that the Polisario delegation will reach an agreement with Morocco.
However, the hardening of Polisario leadership position relating to a referendum in which independence is an option is not possible because independence can not be the subject of handling without identifying voters. We showed them that this is impossible because of historical reasons and because of the distribution of Sahrawis over various States and therefore identity cannot be determined. We must move our positions, and we moved our positions and waved from rigid positions, we have recognized our mistakes in handling this issue in the past and the present. We are now ready to move forward by constructive and creative solutions to the problem like the one we submitted. of course, this solution is open to enable Polisario negotiate its content, but does not give it the possibility to bargain its essence, particularly with regard to sovereignty.