The presence of two MINURSO officials at a Polisario congress in the buffer zone is set to ignite debates on both the impartiality and effectiveness of the UN peacekeeping mission.
Rabat – A “provocative” picture has emerged of two MINURSO Blue Helmets participating in a Polisario event in Tifariti, considered a “buffer zone” in the conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front over the Western Sahara region in southern Morocco.
Moroccan news outlet le 360, which was the first to report on the news, indicated that the presence of MINURSO elements at the 15th Polisario congress, an annual event of “Sahrawi nationalism”-suffused speeches, is a worrying signal for MINURSO’s ability to maintain the status quo in the territorial dispute.
It is even more worrying, the report stressed, that the event took place in a buffer area, a zone where MINURSO has repeatedly denounced Polisario’s “violations” in series of recent reports in the past months.
In October of this year, a report from the UN Secretary-General lamented the fact that Polisario had failed “to comply with requests by MINURSO to resolve” a number of its violations in the buffer areas. Among the many violations on MINURSO’s list was Polisario’s “unauthorized relocation of an engineering company and a security detachment in Tifariti.”
UN peacekeeping missions are traditionally associated with impartiality and objectivity, with Blue Helmets categorically instructed to avoid any affinity or show of support for one part in the disputes they are charged to monitor.
But with the newly uncovered picture, le 360 argued, it is hard not to worry about the implications of some MINURSO members’ perceived ideological affinity with the Polisario Front.
Le 360 illustrated by citing the case of Egyptian Blue Helmet Hany Mustapha, who, while serving with MINURSO in 2013, was filmed telling a group of pro-Polisario young Sahrawis that they needed to show more relentlessness and resolve in fighting against “Moroccan occupation.”
The presence of the two MINURSO officers at the Polisario congress “constitutes a serious violation of the principle of impartiality,” the Moroccan newspaper emphasized, adding that such developments would also undermine MINURSO’s effectiveness in securing the cease-fire or maintaining the status quo, which is why the UN force exists in the first place.
The news comes as Morocco appears to focus its Western Sahara diplomacy on “constructive dialogue” and “proactive diplomacy.”
Even as it faced provocations from Polisario in recent months, including declarations of war and frequently reported military maneuverings near its defense wall, Morocco has not responded in the same muscular, show-of-force way it would some years ago.
While the diplomatic shift has worked to a considerable extent, with many former pro-Polisario countries having either suspended or withdrawn their support for the cesessionist group, there are marginal voices in the Moroccan public discourse that continue to call for a kindred, muscular response to military provocations from the self-autonomy-seeking front.
They argue that diplomatic success, however important, will not effectively dissuade Polisario from frequently defying the status quo and challenging Morocco’s territorial integrity.
As the Western Sahara political process is set to take a new course in the wake of the uncertainty that followed Horst Kohler’s resignation as UN envoy, it remains to be seen how Morocco will balance its perceived strong commitment to a political solution and the urge to fend off Polisario movements in areas near the berm, as the Moroccan defense wall is called.