The two former ministers believe Morocco’s Autonomy Initiative is the most credible solution to the Western Sahara territorial dispute.
Rabat – Former British ministers Mark Field and Derek Conway said Tuesday that Algeria has a responsibility in the regional dispute over Western Sahara, in southern Morocco, and must actively take part in the political process to solve the issue.
Field, a former minister of state at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Conway, a former minister of the Crown, made the statements during “The Western Sahara Debate,” an online talk show that aims to shed light on the territorial dispute.
The 10th episode of the show, which premiered on June 23, brought together the former British officials who underlined Algeria’s responsibility in the persistence of the issue and stressed the need for Algeria’s participation in the roundtable process to reach a solution.
During their statements, both experts argued that Algeria continues to provide political, financial, military, and logistical support to the Polisario Front.
The Algerian government is also delegating sovereignty over the Tindouf camps, near the Moroccan borders, to the separatist front, in violation of international laws, the officials said.
Field described the humanitarian situation in the Tindouf camps as “simply awful,” calling on Algeria to assume its responsibility in improving the living conditions of the camps’ inhabitants.
“The people there deserve a much better future than the generations of uncertainty and economic depression that we have seen,” Field said.
Meanwhile, Conway called on Algeria to “step up to the plate.”
“Algeria has such an important role to play in resolving this sadness. They really must accept their international responsibilities,” he said.
Centrality of roundtable process
The two British officials consider the Geneva roundtable process as a “historic opportunity” to solve the Western Sahara dispute as it was able to bring together all the parties involved in the issue.
Algeria must constructively participate in the process if a solution is to be reached, Field and Conway stressed.
The meetings were the first time that all concerned parties took part in the discussions, including Algeria and Mauritania.
At the end of the March 2019 meeting, all four parties pledged to meet again for a third roundtable discussion.
Credibility and realism of Autonomy Initiative
Field and Conway both consider Morocco’s Autonomy Initiative as the most reliable solution to the regional dispute over Western Sahara, describing it as “relevant” and “foresighted.”
The Autonomy Initiative suggests giving the population living in Morocco’s southern region complete autonomy, on the condition that they remain under the kingdom’s sovereignty.
The initiative “would enable the Moroccan southern provinces to directly control their civil and economic development, whilst defense, foreign affairs, and religious matters would remain national responsibilities,” Field explained.
Conway also believes the “remarkable” initiative will lead to “a bright future” for the population of the region, by giving them “a greater say over their affairs.”
The reforms and development projects King Mohammed VI launched in Morocco’s southern regions have built an atmosphere of stability, democracy, and prosperity for the population of Western Sahara, the two officials agreed.
People in Western Sahara fully enjoy their political, economic, and social rights, Conway stressed, highlighting the investments Morocco has made in the region.
“For each one dollar generated in the region, Morocco invests seven dollars,” Conway said. “Far from exploiting the region as it is often alleged, it is quite clear that the Moroccan government is putting a great deal of investments in that part of the world.”
The two experts also said that Morocco’s reforms since the ascension of King Mohammed VI, notably “parliamentary reforms, open and fair elections, and reforms to human rights,” have secured a “firm basis for the future.”
Local democracy in Morocco’s southern regions is of utmost importance, Field added, recalling the turnout rate of 79% that Morocco’s southern regions reached in the most recent elections—the highest regional rate in the country.
The figures “show a real hunger for representative democracy that I think should now be encouraged, as well as recognized,” Field commented.
Meanwhile, Conway believes the turnout rate illustrates Morocco’s Sahrawi population’s “thirst for democratic control over their destiny, and desire to have a say in health services, housing issues, and education issues.”
Both officials concluded their statements by reiterating their calls for Algeria to constructively participate in the peace process, assuring that a long-standing, fair solution can be achieved.