Monday, 8 November 2010

Western Sahara talks on 8 - 9 th November

Christopher Ross, the UN's latest envoy to try and make headway in the Western Sahara dispute, has at least succeeded in getting the main parties to agree to attend talks to be held in New York on 8 - 9th November. The aim of the talks is to try and break the impasse over the future of the disputed territory, which Ross says is 'unsustainable'. The talks follow Ross' recent visit to the region. A UN spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said that it hopes the talks “will be productive and will allow parties to move beyond the impasse.” Few analysts believe any such progress will be made. The fundamental problem is that the dispute is over a 'winner takes all' outcome. Morocco, however, has time on its side.

There are two small matters which have gone against Algeria, however, in the last week or so. Whether they will have much bearing on the talks is doubtful, but they are seen as possibly strengthening the Moroccan position.

What has happened to Mustapha Salma?

One is the reports, as yet unverified, and which could still be nothing more than Moroccan 'propaganda', that the outspoken Sahrawi leader, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, was shot dead, or at least seriously injured by his Algerian and/or Polisario captors who have apparently been holding him since 21st September despite promises by the Polisario on 16th October that he would released. Salma's 'crime' was that he had voiced support for Morocco's autonomy plan. At this moment, all the reports of his possible death are coming from Moroccan sources. They are unverified and have all the appearance of being a major propaganda ploy to discredit both the Polisario and Algeria prior to next week's talks. However, if the reports turn out to be true, they could be very damaging for both the Polisario and Algeria.

Ali Belhadj explains the Islamist position

The second matter relates to comments made this week by the former FIS leader, Ali Belhadj. The gist of Belhadj's comments is that the Western Sahara dispute is a fight between two regimes, not two peoples, and that while both regimes are 'bad', the Algerian one is by far the worst. In that sense, Belhadj might appear to be lending his weight more to the Moroccan position. However, his fundamental argument, as an Islamist, is that Islamists don't like states, and especially small ones (as the Western Sahara would become), because Muslims are all one people and should be part of one single entity. But, if the Western Sahara was to be incorporated in Morocco, perhaps also with Mauritania, it would at least create a bigger entity than if it becomes independent. Not surprisingly, Belhadj's somewhat convoluted argument has not been given much coverage in Algeria, apart from some comment in the Arab-language media, but has been seized upon by the Moroccan media.

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

For more news and expert analysis about the Sahara region, please see Sahara Focus.

© 2010 Menas Associates

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