UNSG Imposes Unusual Blackout on Annual Report on Western Sahara

The much-anticipated annual report of the United Nations Secretary General on Western Sahara is due to be submitted to the Security Council in the coming days.

Based on the recommendations of the report, the 15-member body will decide whether to renew the mandate of the UN Mission in the Western Sahara, known as MINURSO. The mandate will come up for renewal on April 30, 2017.

Sources acquainted with the matter told Morocco World News that a draft of report has already been submitted to the office of the UN chief Antonio Guterres.

But unlike during the two terms of the former UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Guterres has decided not to share the draft report with Morocco or France, the same source added.

The same source said that unlike most reports for other UN missions, which get published before being submitted to the concerned parties, Morocco has therefore received special treatment for many years.

This will be the new UN chief’s first annual report on the conflict since he was inaugurated on January 1, 2017.

Unprecedented tension

The release of the UN report comes against the backdrop of unprecedented tension between Morocco and the Polisario in the region of Guerguerate, in the buffer zone between Morocco’s Western Saharan borders and Mauritania.

Tension arose in mid-August when Morocco dispatched its security forces to rid the region of smugglers of all sorts and pave the three-kilometer road linking the region to Mauritania.

The Polisario responded quickly to Morocco’s decision and sent 36 armed militants to stop the project. The move prompted the then UN chief, Ban Ki-moon to express “his deep concern” about the tension between the two parties.

Tension reached alarming levels in in December and January when the Polisario militants started obstructing the traffic of Moroccan trucks carrying goods to Mauritania and the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.

This action, which violates the 1991-ceasefire agreement, prompted King Mohammed VI to hold a phone conversation with the UN chief on February 26. During the conversation, the Moroccan monarch called on Guterres to take the necessary measures to “put an end to an unacceptable situation seriously threatening the UN-brokered ceasefire and jeopardizing stability in the region of Guergarat.”

Two days later, on February 26, Guterres issued a statement calling on the two parties to withdraw unconditionally from the buffer zone.

The UN chief expressed concern about the situation in the Guerguerate and called on Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario, to show maximum restraint and avoid taking any measures that could further escalate tension in the region.

The UN chief urged “the parties to unconditionally withdraw all armed elements from the Buffer Strip as soon as possible, to create an environment conducive to a resumption of the dialogue in the context of the political process led by the United Nations.”

While Morocco immediately withdrew its security forces, the Polisario has decided to keep its armed elements in the region in defiance of the cease-fire agreement signed in 1991 and of the call made by the UN Secretary General.