Despite President Juan Manuel Santos’ wish [es] for discretion, news broke [es] in late August that the Colombian government was to begin negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This was finally confirmed by Santos on September 4 during a televised speech that outlined that the government’s negotiations [es] with FARC would seek an end to the armed conflict and drug trafficking. Both sides will also discuss victims’ rights, rural development and the participation of FARC in Colombia’s democratic process. Fearing a repeat of the last round of failed negotiationsin 1999-2002, Santos also said that no amnesty would be granted for FARC leaders and that military operations would continue. Minutes later, FARC’s leader, Timoleón Jiménez (‘Timochenko’) appeared in a broadcast from Havana, Cuba and declared that FARC is truly committed to a “civilized dialogue” that would end the decades-old conflict.
Resource-rich Western Sahara is at the top of the news this week, and the “last colonial conflict” in Africa is definitely an issue to watch.
Al Jazeera’s bureau in Morocco was closed down two weeks ago by the authorities. The news network gave its coverage of the Western Sahara issue as one of the main reasons. So if the Moroccan government doesn’t want us to know about what’s going on there, chances are it must be something interesting and worth digging deeper into.
Representatives of Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania are currently gathered in New York for a round of UN-brokered informal talks in an effort to end a conflict that has its roots in the 1970s. Just before the talks started, a raid by Moroccan forces on a Western Saharan refugee camp left dozens injured and four dead.
Western Sahara is likely to gain strategic importance as world reserves in phosphate are depleted, because it is one of the few regions in the world to hold large quantities of this key fertilizer. Moreover, the region possesses significant fisheries and offshore oil reserves, raising the strategic stakes further.
Morocco doesn’t want to let go of such a treasure vault, but the Polisario front has been pressing for a referendum on the independence of the region for years. The UN, on the other hand, has been monitoring a ceasefire between the two parties since 1991, keeping a fragile and unsustainable ‘peace’ of sorts in place.
But what does the recent raid and the closing down of Al Jazeera’s Morocco bureau say about Moroccan tactics in Western Sahara and will negotiations this time lead anywhere?
To learn more about the background to this conflict, explore our Digital Library holdings on Western Sahara. Some resources worth highlighting include:
- A policy brief by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) outlining why the mediation process by the UN is not working
- This situation report by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) presenting the perspectives of both Morocco and the Polisario Front on the conflict
- This report by International Crisis Group describing the costs of this protracted frozen conflict
I don’t see any reason to be optimistic about a possible revival of serious peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell is busy trying to arrange a meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to be held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next week. But, what happened to the ‘Quartet’ – made up of the US, Russia, the EU and the UN – which was supposed to be an active peace broker?