According to South Africa's Sunday Times and AFP UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is working on his own plan to resolve the thirty-year-old Western Sahara conflict. The details of the plan have not yet been released.
Morocco, who controls most of the Territory, has said that it is working on its own autonomy proposal, one that would grant Western Sahara self-governance within Moroccan 'sovereignty'. The Polisario Front, an indigenous independence movement, rejects autonomy. Citing international law, it calls for the exercise of the right of self-determination -- to let the Western Saharans express their preference for independence.
Time is running short for the UN Mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO), whose mandate expires this month. MINURSO has routinely been extended since its creation in 1991, but the US representative at the UN, John Bolton, wants to see the Mission scuttled unless serious progress towards a resolution can be made.
According to the Sunday Times/AFP, "Emerging from a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Annan declined to go into details of his plan and said he had not been informed about another project for autonomy of the region that Morocco intends to present to the UN."
The major question facing Annan is the Western Saharans' right of self-determination, which vexed the previous mediator, James Baker, the former US secretary of state. Baker's 2003 plan offered a short four year period of autonomy followed by a self-determination vote including both Moroccans settlers inside of, and persons native to, Western Sahara. Even with Moroccan settlers outnumbering native Western Saharans by at least two to one, Morocco has rejected any proposal that questions its 'territorial integrity' through an independence vote.
Annan himself has said that self-determination is based on the right to choose independence. Yet Annan said his own plan, according to the article, "would be cautious, seek to be mutually acceptable by those involved and capable of being put into practice without being imposed on any of the parties."
If Morocco rejects any option of independence, yet even Annan says that the Western Saharans have a right to independence, how could he propose something that's "mutually acceptable"? Polisario will never give up independence, Morocco will never allow it, and the Security Council will not force either side to accept something they don't like.
Annan obviously doesn't have an ace up his sleeve. More likely, he wants to create the perception of progress in Western Sahara to counter Bolton's Polisario sympathies and budget-cutting Zealotry. Annan will be wise to introduce his plan before the parties can react to it, but just in time to affect the Security Council debate on MINURSO at the end of this month.