Western Sahara: UN SG report most importants points

Western Sahara, Morocco, UN, MINURSO, Frente Polisario, UN SG report,

Most firing incidents across the berm reported to MINURSO by the parties were concentrated in the north of the Territory, near Mahbas. According to MINURSO calculations based on the reported incidents, the incidents of firing reported by the parties have steadily decreased since January 2021. While MINURSO was not able to independently confirm the number and location of the reported firing incidents, their impact remained the subject of divergent claims.

MINURSO continued to note reports of strikes conducted by Royal Moroccan Army unmanned aerial vehicles east of the berm. In some instances, media reports indicated that civilian casualties had occurred as a result of the aerial strikes. Due to the time needed to receive authorization from the parties to visit these sites, MINURSO was only able to independently confirm that casualties had occurred on one occasion, on 16 November 2021 in the Mijek Area. Additionally, MINURSO observed traces of human remains at four other sites.

Low-intensity hostilities in the Mission area between the Royal Moroccan Army and Frente POLISARIO continued throughout the reporting period and continued to impact MINURSO’s aerial and ground activities. The presence of unexploded ordnance and explosive remnants of war also constituted a potential threat to UN personnel, assets and resources.

The Mission introduced preventive measures to address security concerns. Ground patrols and helicopter reconnaissance flights west of the berm maintained a safe distance from the live-fire areas. East of the berm, existing restrictions to ground patrols and helicopter reconnaissance flights also contributed to a lower security risk. Flights that did occur were carefully coordinated with both sides. The assessed residual risk to United Nations personnel, operations and assets was considered medium in Laayoune and Tindouf, but high in the areas west and east of the berm outside of Laayoune.

The presence of drug smugglers and other criminal elements in the Territory, as well as the risk of possible terrorist attacks, remained of concern.

Morocco and Frente POLISARIO retained primary responsibility for the safety and security of United Nations personnel, assets and resources west and east of the berm, respectively, and MINURSO continued to have confidence in the commitment and capability of both parties.

During the reporting period, seven road traffic accidents involving Mission personnel were recorded, with an accident near Laayoune on 7 July 2022 resulting in one fatality and several injuries amongst Mission personnel. In Tindouf the situation remained stable with one incident of harassment against UN staff reported.

Lack of access to areas near the berm continued to pose significant challenges to MINURSO observation activities and the mission’s ability to obtain first-hand information and to verify reported developments on the ground. My Special Representative remained unable to meet with Frente POLISARIO representatives in Rabouni, in line with established practice.

Constraints to the MINURSO logistical supply and maintenance chain to Team Sites east of the berm continued to have increasingly serious consequences for the Mission’s ability to sustain its field presences in the austere and difficult conditions of the Territory. This negatively affected the delivery of fuel; the repair and maintenance of rapidly degrading critical equipment, installations and accommodations and the rotation of vehicles and transportation of heavy equipment that cannot be airlifted. It curtailed the Mission’s efforts to implement the UN Environmental Sustainability Strategy and also significantly impacted life support, including food, bulk water and fuel resupply.

In early August, MINURSO faced an interruption to the resupply of fuel to its Team Sites east of the berm following an incident on 2 August during which a Frente POLISARIO water truck used to supply bulk water to MINURSO was destroyed by a reported aerial strike in the vicinity of the MINURSO Team Site in Agwanit. MINURSO UNMAS experts visited the site of the incident on 4 August and observed one water truck with damage consistent with the use of an air-to-ground munition. On 4 August, the Frente POLISARIO Coordinator with MINURSO wrote to my Special Representative stating that “the Frente POLISARIO [had] no other option but to reconsider the existing arrangements with MINURSO including the assurances given to the Mission to carry out its regular passenger and logistic flights and other operations.” As a result, deliveries of fuel to all the Team Sites east of the berm were interrupted. Without re-supply, fuel reserves in at least two Team Sites east of the berm were estimated by MINURSO to reach critically low levels by early September. High level interventions by MINURSO and the Secretariat with both parties were activated alongside efforts to find alternative options to enable the continued operation of the Team Sites. On 24 August, the Royal Moroccan Army wrote to MINURSO conveying its assurances, “exceptionally” for “one-time only”, for the refuelling of all five TeamSites east of the berm.

I remain deeply concerned by the developments in Western Sahara. The resumption of hostilities between Morocco and Frente POLISARIO remains a major setback to the achievement of a political solution to this longstanding dispute. Daily incursions into the buffer strip adjacent to the berm and hostilities between the parties in this area violate its status as a demilitarized zone that should instead remain a cornerstone of a peaceful solution to the situation of Western Sahara. The continued lack of an effective ceasefire threatens the stability of the region, with a risk of escalation while hostilities persist. The conduct of aerial strikes and firing across the berm continues to contribute to increasing tensions.

Despite this challenging context, it remains my belief that a political solution to the question of Western Sahara is possible provided that all concerned engage in good faith and there is continued support from the international community. The United Nations remains available to convene all those concerned with the issue of Western Sahara in the search of a peaceful solution. The efforts by my Personal Envoy provide an opportunity that I urge all to seize. Strong political will is required to find a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution that will provide for the selfdetermination of the people of Western Sahara in accordance with resolutions 2440 (2018), 2468 (2019), 2494 (2019), 2548 (2020) and 2602 (2021).

To that end, I urge all concerned to approach the facilitation of the process by my Personal Envoy with an open mind, and to desist from preconditions for the political process. In guiding present and future approaches, due consideration should be given to the precedents set by my previous Personal Envoys in the framework of existing Security Council resolutions.

I regret to note that lack of trust continues to permeate the region. In the Territory, ongoing unilateral assertive actions and symbolic gestures are a source of enduring tension and have a negative impact on the situation. I encourage the parties to focus on the strong interests they have in common and urge them to refrain from escalating the situation further through rhetoric and actions.

As I reaffirm the crucial role of neighbouring states in the achievement of a solution to the question of Western Sahara, I reiterate the expression of my concern at the deteriorated relations between Morocco and Algeria. I encourage the two countries to re-establish dialogue towards the mending of their relations and renewed efforts aimed at regional cooperation, including with a view to an environment conducive to peace and security.

MINURSO has operated in a fundamentally changed operational and political context since the resumption of hostilities and has undertaken a wide range of efforts to adapt to the new circumstances, particularly with a renewed emphasis on operational planning. However, continued restrictions to freedom of movement have led to the inability of MINURSO to safely access areas at or near the berm or the buffer strip and operate a safe and reliable logistics, maintenance and resupply chain to Team Sites east of the berm. Fully restoring the ability of MINURSO to observe the situation in the entire Territory and to provide critical maintenance to its Team Sites east of the berm is intrinsic to its sustainability and as urgent as ever. I strongly urge the Frente POLISARIO to remove all restrictions to the free movement of MINURSO military observers, ground convoys, air assets and personnel east of the berm. It also remains essential that the Royal Moroccan Army refrain from conducting military activity that might directly or indirectly impact MINURSO operations east of the berm. I am concerned that, without full freedom of movement, MINURSO may soon be unable to sustain its presence east of the berm.

I welcome the resumed engagement between Morocco and my Special Representative and urge Frente POLISARIO to resume regular contacts in person with the MINURSO leadership, both civilian and military.

I remain concerned about the continued suspension of regular mine action operations east of the berm with the exception of ground patrol route clearance, emergency services and support of MINURSO investigations at sites of suspected aerial strikes. I am encouraged, however, by the signalled willingness by both parties to allow resumption of demining operations and call on both parties to reach a final agreement with MINURSO in this respect that enables the resumption of this lifesaving work. I also call on both parties to engage with the MINURSO Mine Action Service to facilitate the removal of landmines and explosive remnants of war throughout the Territory in adherence to international humanitarian mine action standards.

I would like to express my appreciation to the Mission’s troop-contributing countries for their support to MINURSO’s efforts to achieve full gender balance among its military observers, in line with the objectives of the Action for Peacekeeping initiative. I remain convinced that the increased participation of women in peacekeeping improves the performance of United Nations peace operations and strengthens their effectiveness.

I reiterate my sincere gratitude to Morocco, Frente POLISARIO and Algeria for their cooperation to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and in particular for the generosity of Morocco and Algeria for continuing to provide vaccines to the civilian and military staff of MINURSO.

I am concerned about the further deteriorating humanitarian situation in the refugee camps near Tindouf. Living standards for the vulnerable camp-based refugees worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact of the rise in global food and fuel prices and supply chain disruptions. As a result, the situation is becoming increasingly alarming with serious short-term threats on refugee population’s food security and access to basic services. I thank the international community and the
Government of Algeria for its assistance to the Sahrawi refugees and wish to echo the call of UNHCR, UNICEF and WFP to the international community to renew efforts and provide additional and urgent support to bring an appropriate response to this emergency.

I also remain concerned about the continued lack of access of OHCHR to the Territory. I once again reiterate my call to the parties to respect, protect and promote the human rights of all people in Western Sahara, including by addressing outstanding human rights issues and enhancing cooperation with OHCHR and the United Nations human rights mechanisms, and to facilitate their monitoring missions. Independent, impartial, comprehensive and sustained monitoring of the human rights situation is necessary to ensure the protection of all people in Western Sahara.

MINURSO remains the main and often sole source of impartial information and advice to me, the Security Council, the Member States and the Secretariat concerning developments in and related to the Territory. It continues to fulfil this role despite the increasingly serious challenges it faces in a fundamentally changed operational and political environment and integrated strategic planning capabilities that are insufficient to respond to the current situation on the ground. MINURSO represents the commitment of the United Nations and the international community towards achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution to the conflict in Western Sahara in accordance with resolutions 2440 (2018), 2468 (2019), 2494 (2019), 2548 (2020) and 2602 (2021). I therefore recommend that the Councilextend the mandate of MINURSO for another year, until 31 October 2023.

I commend my new Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Staffan de Mistura, for his efforts since taking up his duties. I also thank my Special Representative for Western Sahara and Head of MINURSO, Alexander Ivanko as well as the former Force Commander, Major General Zia Ur Rehman and Acting Force Commander, Commodore Faustina Boakyewaa Anokye for their dedicated leadership ofMINURSO. I also wish to remember and honour former Deputy Force Commander Brigadier General Constance Emefa Edjeani-Afenu, who passed away suddenly on 24 January 2022 shortly after leaving the Mission on 19 December 2021, for her distinguished leadership and dedicated service to the United Nations. Finally, I thank the men and women of MINURSO for their continued commitment, under difficult and challenging circumstances, to fulfilling the Mission’s mandate.

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