The parties to the dispute over Western Sahara met today in New York for the start of the third round of United Nations-backed informal talks, while clashes on the ground between Moroccan security forces and Saharawi protesters have reportedly resulted in a number of deaths and injuries.
The security forces engaged in an operation this morning to close the camp set up by Saharawi protesters outside the city of Laayoune a month ago, UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York.
“The information available to us to date as to the reasons for this operation, the level of force employed, the reaction of those in the camp, and the number of casualties among the protesters and security forces is sketchy and contradictory,” he stated, adding that, by all accounts, there are a number of dead and wounded.
UN personnel in Western Sahara are attempting to gain a more complete picture of the facts.
“It is highly unfortunate that this operation and the events preceding and following it have affected the atmosphere in which these talks are being held,” said Mr. Nesirky. “We call on all parties involved to exercise the utmost restraint in the hours and days to come.”
The talks between the parties – Morocco and the Frente Polisario – are taking place on Long Island at the invitation of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross. The two-day discussions also include representatives of the neighbouring States of Algeria and Mauritania.
The UN has been involved in efforts towards a settlement in Western Sahara since 1976, when fighting broke out between Morocco and the Frente Polisario after the Spanish colonial administration of the territory ended.
Morocco has presented a plan for autonomy while the position of the Frente Polisario is that the territory’s final status should be decided in a referendum on self-determination that includes independence as an option.
A UN mission, known as MINURSO, has been entrusted with monitoring the ceasefire reached in September 1991 and organizing a referendum on self-determination.