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06RABAT637 2006-04-07 16:40:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  

WESTERN SAHARA: BASTAGLI MAKES THE CASE FOR

Tags:   MO PBTS PHUM PREL 
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1. (C) Summary: During an April 6 meeting with the
Ambassador, SRSG Bastagli argued that tighter and more robust
operations over the last six months had made MINURSO a more
effective force. Violations of the ceasefire were down 50
percent. Confidence-building measures remained essential to
UN operations in Western Sahara, and the UN hoped they could
be expanded, as they help hold Sahrawi society together.
Bastagli said the UN was neglecting the Sahrawis by not
offering any programs west of the berm and not focusing on
the needs of the Sahrawi population, beyond the political
solution. Both Ambassador and Bastagli expressed
disappointment in Morocco's apparent decision to delay
submitting ideas on autonomy, after indications to the
contrary. Bastagli said Morocco had postponed again the
proposed visit of the UN Human Rights Commission. End
Summary.



2. (C) SRSG Francesco Bastagli met with Ambassador Riley
(their first meeting) for 45 minutes on April 6. Bastagli
was accompanied by MINURSO Political Officer Carmen Johns,
while DCM and Polcouns joined the Ambassador. Bastagli said
his staff had just completed its portion of the draft report
to the UNSYG. Reviewing the last six months of activity,
Bastagli said MINURSO had made positive accomplishments in
line with its mandate. MINURSO operations were more
effective and stream-lined. MINURSO had merged civilian and
military communications to consolidate and save money. Night
patrols and demining activities were going on. The family
visits under the confidence-building measures (CBMs) had
resumed after a lapse of a year; while run by UNHCR, MINURSO
was heavily involved. As he had relayed during a recent
meeting in Geneva, MINURSO wanted to build on the successes
of the program and expand. Illegal migration remained a big
issue in the Western Sahara, and MINURSO had recently worked
out an understanding with IOM and UNHCR on how to handle
migrants.



3. (C) Thus, Bastagli continued, the UNSYG's report on
Western Sahara would show progress. On the military side,
tighter operations were producing results. Violations of the
ceasefire by both sides were down 50 percent from the
previous "semester" (comment: it was not clear what time
period a semester represents), with a rise during the King's
visit to Laayoune (see Ref A).

CBMs


--------------------------





4. (C) Turning to the CBMs in more detail, Bastagli said the
CBMs were important both to the UN and the people in the
Western Sahara. They brought separated communities together.
There was a waiting list of 18,000 people for the family
visits program, which at current rates constituted a backlog
of 7-8 years. The UN hoped to expand the pace of moving 180
people a month, but concurrence by the GOM and GOA was
necessary before the program could expand. Roughly 11,000 of
the backlog were registrants from Tindouf. Bastagli said he
had discussed the issue with the new Minister of Interior and
the MFA during his current trip to Rabat. Both sides fiddle
with the program, he said; on a recent flight departing
Laayoune, the Moroccans had pulled 10 people out at the last
minute because they were "activists." (Comment: we
understand that prominent Sahrawi activist Mohammed Daddach
is eager to participate in the program, in part to visit his
sick mother in Tindouf, but the GOM allegedly will not let
him go, Daddach supporters say.) The CBM program needed more
management from the UN, Bastagli said -- someone with
authority and charisma needs to run the program to counteract
the manipulation from the two sides and keep everything on
track. UNHCR "rolls with the punches" too easily, Bastagli
claimed.



5. (C) Bastagli said the non-political seminars were still
under consideration as a CBM. They too could provide the
occasion for direct encounters between Sahrawis separated by

the berm. Topcs such as Hassaniya poetry and nomadic life
in achanging world were some of the ideas under
consderation. The UN envisioned that the seminars would
take place outside but close to the Western Sahara, such as
in the Canary Islands. UNHCR had developed the concept and
was close to tabling it with the parties.



6. (C) Ambassador asked what drove the interest in the CBMs
among the Sahrawis. The Moroccans, it seemed, had hoped more
Sahrawis from Tindouf would stay west of the berm, and they
may have been disappointed this did not take place. (Johns
chimed in that only seven Sahrawis had decided to stay on the
Moroccan side). Bastagli agreed the GOM hoped for this
result. While acknowledging that "going native" was a
concern of his about UN staff posted in Tindouf, Bastagli
said Tindouf residents were generally strong believers "in
the cause" of independence. It was difficult to judge the
extent of coercion in Tindouf, but UN staffers there did not
believe the refugees were physically captive. A disincentive
to people in Tindouf was the heavy hand on the Sahrawi
population on the Moroccan side.



7. (C) Ambassador asked whether, while the US continued to
support the CBMs, the CBMs contributed to a political
solution to the conflict. Bastagli said the CBMs give the
people a perspective on life on the other side, which is
important. There is paranoia, and there are misconceptions
on both sides. And, if nothing else, from a humanitarian
point of view, the exchanges help hold the society together,
Bastagli argued.

The UN is Neglecting the Sahrawis


--------------------------





8. (C) Bastagli turned to a larger issue, that of "UN
neglect" of the Sahrawi people. He said there is a gap in
knowledge, a missing link, about the inhabitants of the
Moroccan side of the berm. There are no UN agencies, other
than MINURSO and UNHCR, operating in the Sahara. The UN, and
by extension the international community, knows little about
the status of health and education in the Sahara. What are
the challenges, beyond the political, are the people facing?
The problem is not MINURSO, Bastagli said, but one of UN
management. The UNSYG's report, for example, should contain
a section assessing the conditions of the people.



9. (C) The Ambassador noted that major initiatives such as
the Free Trade Agreement and the Millennium Challenge Account
excluded the Western Sahara, which was understandable from a
political point of view but unfortunate as the people of the
Sahara could not thus benefit from such initiatives.

Autonomy: We Expect More


--------------------------





10. (C) Noting that he had expected "more" from the
Moroccans in the way of autonomy at this stage, Bastagli
asked for the Ambassador's views on the way ahead. Bastagli
noted that he was unsure what UN Personal Envoy Van Walsum
would contribute to the upcoming report on this issue, but it
would probably amount more to process than substance. The
Ambassador responded that Morocco seemed to "veer off course"
with recent indications that it would delay submission of its
autonomy plan. He had asked questions of the GOM about the
composition of CORCAS: how were the members selected? why
would their first meeting be in Rabat (Ref B)? Ambassador
related that he was making calls on the heads of major
Moroccan political parties, most of whom were seeking US
support for Morocco's ideas on autonomy. What ideas on
autonomy? the ambassador asked rhetorically. Frankly the US
was disappointed and did not believe this was a constructive
way to go forward.



11. (C) Bastagli said he was distressed as well. The
"elected" members of CORCAS seemed to be simply hand-picked
members from the original elected committee members. Some
were members of other bodies that already existed. It was
clear that the GOM would provide nothing concrete on autonomy
in April, as it had suggested. Bastagli said he had met
earlier with the UK Ambassador, who told him that in London

Deputy FM Fassi Fihri and UN Perm Rep Sahel had asked their
British interlocuters for ideas on Scottish autonomy. After
considering the issue of autonomy for ten years, Bastagli
asked, these are the questions the GOM is asking now?
Bastagli said the political parties were unlikely to produce
anything of substance on the issue. Morocco needed to give
something credible to the Security Council, but its
credibility was now low. Perhaps, Bastagli said, there has
not been enough international pressure on Morocco to drive
home the importance of delivering a serious autonomy plan.
Ambassador agreed that Morocco seemed not to be approaching
the issue seriously.



12. (C) The Ambassador thanked Bastagli for his presentation
on MINURSO activities and said the US appreciated the
diplomacy MINURSO had undertaken to defuse tensions during
the SADR anniversary celebrations in Tifariti in late
February, and for MINURSO support for the many official US
visits to the Sahara. Bastagli said MINURSO appreciated the
keen interest demonstrated in MINURSO and the Western Sahara
by the US embassy, and the support given to its work.

UN Human Rights Visit Aborted -- Again


--------------------------





13. (C) On the way out, Polcouns asked Bastagli for an
update on the visit of the UN Human Rights Commission,
anticipated to visit Laayoune in late March. Bastagli said
once again the visit had been aborted by the Moroccans, who
were adamant that the UN delegation visit Algiers and Tindouf
prior to coming to Morocco, and as the proposed itinerary had
not been satisfactory to Morocco, the Moroccans had put the
visit off.
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