UN Secretary-General sees progress to “overcome constraints” from the Moroccan side.
The UNSG issued his report on Western Sahara two weeks ahead of the expiration of the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission, known as MINURSO.
In the report, Guterres warned that MINURSO still faces challenges due to the Polisario’s violations east of the berm, or security wall, in the region.
The UN chief emphasized that the separatist group has not yet responded to warnings to remove buildings “recently constructed by Frente Polisario in various locations outside of the restricted area.”
“A logistics hub consisting of 10 new buildings located inside the restricted area near Bir Lahlou, which had already been declared a violation in 2017 and included in the list of long-standing violations in 2018, remained operational,” the report said.
The document listed other new buildings both in Tifariti used by Polisario’s army as well as the relocation of a “security detachment in Tifariti.” The report describes the actions as violations.
Other violations include activities in other buildings including the “unauthorized relocation of an engineering company in Tifariti.
The report added that the Polisario Front established five new observation posts in Agwanit, Bir Lahlou, and Tifariti, which are all restricted areas.
For Guterres, the actions are classed as “violations”.
The UN chief concluded paragraph 32, emphasizing that “Frente POLISARIO has so far failed to comply with requests by MINURSO to resolve any of the violations.”
The report listed other violations by the Polisario Front. The Polisario has disregarded MINURSO’s warning. For Guterres, such tension will hinder the development and progress of the UN-led political process to find a just and mutually acceptable solution to end the dispute.
The report said some of Polisario’s military vehicles and personnel remain in the restricted area despite warnings.
“The military post of Frente Polisario at ‘waypoint 6 … in the restricted area 16.6 east of Guerguerat, consisting of two tents, two to three vehicles and between two to six personnel was again declared a violation in April, although it had been moved out of the buffer strip, it remained in the restricted area.”
The UN secretary-general warned that the Polisario front turned a deaf ear to MINURSO’s request to abandon the post.
“A request to Frente Polisarioto abandon the post remains unheeded,” the report finds.
The United Nations mission in the region also declared Polisario’s armed presence with heavy weapons in Awanit and Tifariti as a violation.
Despite warnings, the Polisario Front again defied UN requests.
MINURSO also identified violations by the Polisario separatists in Mijek in June, when a vehicle “hit an anti-tank mine inside the buffer strip” in the region. The attack caused one death and two injuries.
“Upon investigation, MINURSO determined that the individuals involved in the incident were Frente Polisario military personnel, and their presence in the buffer strip was declared a violation.”
Polisario does not communicate
The UN chief warned that the Polisario Front continues to “refuse all meetings with the Missions leadership, both civilian and military in Rabou, where all meetings had previously been held.”
The Polisario Front has been urging the MINURSO and the UN to hold the meetings in the Western Sahara, which is a violation of the agreements.
The UN Secretary-General stipulates that the lack of communication between MINURSO personnel and members of the separatist group “impedes good communication and effective working relationships with the parties, and handicaps MINURSO in the implementation of its mandate.”
The threat of terrorism is a real struggle
In his recent report, the UN secretary-general echoed international concerns over the terror threats in the region, allowed to flourish by a lack of security.
“The threat related to terrorist groups and criminal activities in the region continues to cause great concern owing to its unpredictability and the unknown level of risk, especially with regard to the team sites located in remote areas east of the berm, the unarmed ground patrols covering long distances across the Territory and the resupply of convoys,” the report said.
The UN chief emphasized that MINURSO is facing the risk of terrorist attacks “owing to the prevalence of malicious actors in the surrounding areas.”
Although there have been “no new direct or explicit threats against the Mission since 2017… arrests of terrorist suspects in Laayoune and Tindouf refugee camps within the past year are a reminder that the threat remains real,” Guterres warned.
The statement against terror threats in the region is also shared by Moroccan security services, who warned that Tindouf camps might be safe ground for terrorists. The situation causes concern not only for Morocco but also for its international security partners.
In February, Italian media outlet Analisi Difesa published a report written by Anna Rita Palamerio on the scourge of terrorism in the Sahel region.
The author said that the Tindouf camps in southwest Algeria “suffer serious social conditions,” where thousands of Saharawis live in alleged unbearable living conditions, furthering the “spread of terrorism in the Sahel-Saharan region.”
The author added that the camps serve as the main source of recruitment for several terror organizations, including Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJW).
In his report, Guterres argued that the leader of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, issued in April 2019 a statement “calling for militants operating in West Africa to multiply attacks against “Crusader France and its allies”, raising terrorism-related concerns.
Following his review and observations, the secretary-general said that he hopes to see both the Polisario Front and Morocco engage in the political process in “good faith” as soon as a new Personal Envoy is appointed.
The secretary-general reiterated appreciation over the efforts of the former envoy, Horst Kohler, who resigned in May due to health concerns.
“I call on Security Council members, friends of Western Sahara and other relevant actors to encourage Morocco and Frente Polisario to engage in good faith and without preconditions in the political process as soon as a new Personal Envoy is appointed,” said the secretary-general.
He added that after his meeting with Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita on the sidelines of the 74th General Assembly of the UN, “ I believe progress can be achieved to overcome constraints regarding these aspects on the Moroccan side.”
He also urged the Polisario front to show the same spirit, asking them to resume the longstanding practice of meeting with MINURSO.
“It is also my hope that Frente POLISARIO will resume its longstanding practice of meeting MINURSO leadership in Rabouni,” he said.