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At UN, Western Sahara Session Goes Late But Words Not Changed, Realism Disputed

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, April 30 -- Western Sahara was debated behind closed doors in the Security Council into the night on April 30, the last day of South Africa's presidency of the Council. At 10:29 p.m., the so-called MINURSO resolution was put on the agenda at a televised meeting for a vote, with no changes to the language proposed two days previous. Before the formal vote, Costa Rica and others explained their upcoming rubber-stamp votes. At 10:45, the resolution was unanimously approved.

   Following the controversy about Ban Ki-moon's envoy Peter van Walsum issuing a report calling on those in Western Sahara to be "realistic" and not expect a referendum with independence as an option, the Western Saraha resolution got bogged down in a series of disputes, mostly focusing on the 25-word Operative Paragraph 2, which as drafted indicated that the Council "endorses the report's recommendation that realism and a spirit of compromise by the parties are essential to maintain the momentum of the process of the negotiations."

The Polisario Front, South Africa, Panama and Costa Rica said they were opposed to the reference to "realism," wanting it removed or made to apply to both parties. Also on the table was changing that the Council "endorses" the report to merely "takes note." Costa Rica wanted to include "within the framework of international law," and to "call upon the parities to engage in continuous ... dialogue with the UNHCHR" on human rights. But these amendments were withdrawn.

The Polisario Front, and South Africa (and Panama and Costa Rica) are pushing to get in the resolution a reference to human rights, which France, and reportedly the US and UK, oppose. The Polisario representatives said that the UK and US had, in closed consultation, offered to allow reference to human rights, and the France alone opposed it. But France claimed to have support from the UK, US and others of the "Group of Friends." South Africa points out that this Group does not include any African or Arab countries. And so it goes.

Van Walsum and Ban - of one mind on Western Sahara?

At a 3 p.m. press conference, Inner City Press asked South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo why, if South Africa opposed the Group of Friends' draft, he wouldn't vote against it. Because those on the ground don't want us to, Kumalo said. And behind the stakeout's coffee machine, the Polisario's representative said the draft "preserves the essentials," while shamefully leaving out human rights.

   As the clock moved past ten p.m., and journalists and UN experts on South Sudan drifted away, Ambassador Kumalo emerged. He told the press he was not hopeful of changes being made to the text. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia returned, to much back-slapping. France's Jean-Maurice Ripert apologized to Kumalo for skipping his end of presidency lunch. He mused about a dinner he was missing. "Anything else, I could leave," he said. "But on Western Sahara, if I leave, I'm dead."

At 10:29, the Council moved toward approving the text exactly as it went into blue two days before.  Statements began, with Costa Rica asking why international law was ignored by the resolution, and why the drafers ignored and took no changes from the non-permanent members. Permanent member Russia pointed out that it opposed the amendments because it had no agreement from its capital, that "others" spoke inside the consultations.  South Africa's Kumalo echoed Costa Rica, stating that the Group of Friends refused to take any suggestions or changes.

   Kumalo asked, are we going to "tell the people of Palestine that they should be realistic? Or to the people of Serbia to accept Kosovo as a reality because of what has happened?" The first of these analogies got Kumalo into hot water earlier in the day. But he repeated it at night, planning to head the next day to Nevada.

  Kumalo said he found it "curious" that some members speak of human rights in countries not on the Council's agenda, like Myanmar and Zimbabwe, but won't include the phrase with regard to Western Sahara. Then he said, my delegation will vote in favor, with the hope that the people of Western Sahara will one day retain their right to self-determination." And at 10:45, the vote was unanimous, the resolution was approved.

the U.S.'s Alejandro Wolff issued many caveats. Burkina Faso issued some. France's Ripert half-explained his country's position. And so it goes at the UN.

Footnote: as dusk turned to night at the Security Council, a theory was advanced that while the U.S., for example, once tried to mediate the Western Sahara issue, now under Elliot Abrams it has decided that Morocco is key to its "war on terror," and therefore "forget human rights."

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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