Pressure builds on Ross as UN warns of rising extremist threat in Tindouf

Time bomb

NEW YORK – United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Monday for an urgent settlement for the Western Sahara issue due to the mounting instability and insecurity in the Sahel region and urged the opening Morocco-Algerian borders for the interest of the region and the international community.
The rise of instability and insecurity in and around the Sahel requires an urgent settlement of this long-standing dispute, Ban said in its latest report on the Sahara issued in New York. In this report, Ban voiced concern over the security of MINURSO staff, saying that ongoing operations in northern Mali can threaten the region in the long run.
He explained the continuing suspension of MINURSO night patrols is due possible armed infiltrations and gaps in regional security coordination.
The UN chief recalled that three humanitarian aid workers were kidnapped from the camps of Tindouf in October 2011.
All Governments consulted, during visit by UN secretary-general’s personal envoy for the Western Sahara Christopher Ross, raised serious concern over the risk that the fighting in Mali could spill over into the neighbouring countries and contribute to radicalizing the camps populations, he said.
He noted that difficulties during the period continued to hinder progress toward a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution, regretting that the negotiating process remains at a stalemate because the two parties have refused to move beyond presenting and defending their respective proposals.
The persistence of the conflict is a hindrance to greater Maghreb integration, which is needed now more than ever in order to face the common challenge of increased instability and insecurity in the region, he stressed.
He underlined that his personal envoy will encourage both Morocco and Algeria to redouble their efforts in order for them both to enjoy the benefits that they would gain from improved relations and the opening of their common border in the interest of the region and of the international community as a whole.
However, analysts believe that in the absence of a clear plan of action, Ross’ mission to resolve the thirty-seven years old dispute will remain at a standstill.
International strategic and defense experts consider that the Sahara independence "is not a realistic nor feasible option" citing evidence of the Polisario involvement with terrorist groups active in the region, in kidnappings and all kinds of illicit trafficking.
"There are cogent evident showing that Polisario elements are involved in the scourges plaguing the region , Laurence Aida Ammour, associate researcher at Bordeaux's political studies institute and international security consultant said as she took part on Monday in a conference held in the McDaniel College, in Westminster (Maryland) on the theme "Political change and security in North Africa" in collaboration with the Center for Navy Analyses (CNA).
The security expert also deplored the hard humanitarian situation and poor human rights record in the Tindouf camps, pointing out that the latest development in the Sahel region and Mali have prompted awareness on the emergency of a lasting solution of the Sahara, taking into account security requirements while observers in Washington have called for the closure of the Tindouf camps which have become the weak link in the fight against terrorism.
She also criticized Algeria's stubborn and rigid attitude, stating that "North Africa and the Sahel are not the same as in the 70's or 80's".
These facts converge to a single conclusion: the Sahara independence "is not a realistic and even less feasible option", said Fernando Reinares, Professor of political science and security studies at the King Juan Carlos university and senior researcher at the Real Instituto Elcano in Madrid.
"It does not serve the interests of Sahrawis, and even less those of the region and the international community", he argued before warning against radicalization in the Polisario ranks and temptations to join extremist groups
"Large autonomy within Moroccan sovereignty is an option that is more than acceptable," he argued.
Morocco has proposed an initiative in response to repeated requests of the United Nations Security Council and several of its key members, including the United States.
The Initiative for Western Sahara or the Autonomy for Western Sahara plan was presented in 2006 as a possible solution to the Western Sahara conflict.
The initiative is the product of a year long internal and foreign Moroccan consultation process. All sectors of the Sahrawi population were included in the consultations and the views of foreign governments and expert international authorities were sought before the plan was finalized for presentation to the United Nations.
The Moroccan side has voiced, on several occasions, its will to reach a solution to this longstanding problem that could facilitate the opening of negotiations for a “just, durable and peaceful” political solution.
The Moroccan proposal is the first and only proposal to come from one of the parties to the conflict in response to the Security Council encouragements.
In various forms, the Polisario has continued to insist that the referendum be held, and threatened a renewal of hostilities and the eviction of the United Nations peacekeeping force from the territory under its control, despite the fact that the Security Council has repeatedly made clear that this solution is no longer viable.