Someone (thanks!) sent me this, which is a translation of a May 24 interview with the UN Secretary-General's personal envoy Peter van Walsum from a Dutch newspaper called NRC Handelsblad. I have not been able find a full version online, and I can not vouch for the translation, but hopefully van Kaas in comments can be persuaded to look into the matter so we won't be forced to rely on anonymous well-wishers. [UPDATE: interview real, translation okay] Anyway, very, very interesting, if it holds true: frank responses to unusually well-informed questions.
Curiously, van Walsum seems determined to present himself as rather clueless and uninvolved. Repeatedly, he claims he has no idea where the negotiations process is at now -- "[a]ctually I have no idea"; nor does he have any idea what the Secretary-General (his boss) thinks about his latest report. But the most surprising part is rather his suggestion that the parties should be forced to experiment with autonomy because "[i]f it does not work, they can go back to the initial position without nobody loosing anything." Is he a total naïf? Has he not been paying attention to anything that has happened during 33 years of conflict? It is hard to believe that anyone with the slightest interest in this conflict can imagine that you can just waltz back and forth with the fundamental principles of the conflict in either direction: it took Morocco 13 years of grinding labor to be able to backtrack on its approval of a referendum, and it's still not entirely safe in its new anti-vote position. Perhaps this is a suggestion you'd expect from a total newcomer to the conflict, the casual newspaper reader who caught a 100-worder about Western Sahara, but from the Secretary-General's personal envoy? Should we laugh, or cry, or wonder why he's saying something he can't possibly believe?
Yet, he does come across as a likeable fellow overall, and he makes several interesting points which should have been more frankly discussed by UN officials from the start. This concerns, for example, the stronger legal case of POLISARIO, the stronger international backing of Morocco, and the very active involvement of Algeria. He also points out that while POLISARIO is foaming at the mouth over him saying that independence presently seems unrealistic, it has not yet formally demanded his replacement. Isn't that interesting?
Here's the whole thing, as it was handed to me:
UPDATE I: I have been scooped. A very interesting take, from a whole other angle, by Sahara-Watch.
The negotiations in the conflict about the Western Sahara between Morocco and the independence movement Polisario under supervision of the UN are ‘a farce’. That says Peter van Walsum, the personal envoy of the UN-secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and mediator in the conflict in an interview with this newspaper. About speculations about his leave as UN-mediator van Walsum says: “I always have said to Morocco and Polisario: If you have enough of me, you just write a letter to the secretary-general. Then the problem will be fixed in a minute”. Van Walsum reacts with this comment on the severe critics which he received by Polisario and Algeria, which supports the movement for independence. Last month, van Walsum called the referendum for independence of the Western Sahara ‘unrealistic’. Since then he became persona non grata for Polisario and the negotiations stopped. The main part of the Western Sahara was occupied by Morocco 33 years ago. According to van Walsum, talks about independency are of no use, since the Security Council from the start on never was willing to use military violence to force Morocco to accept this option. By rejecting the option of independence, van Walsum had hoped that Polisario would have chosen for hard negotiations on a form of autonomy of the region. The UN-mediator says he has no idea whatsoever how the talks will be continued and what his role in the negotiations will be.
He would have violated the image of the UN. Made him self impossible as negotiator. Undermined his neutrality. Made a joke out of human rights. Seldom a personal envoy of the Secretary-General of the UN was so heavily attacked as van Walsum. The Dutch diplomat must mediate in the conflict about the Moroccan occupied Western Sahara, but since a couple weeks he has been declared persona non grata by the independence movement Polisario and Algeria. Van Walsum lies under fire because he has given the Security Council, apart from the report of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, his frank opinion that negotiations concerning an independent Western Sahara are ‘unrealistic’. Morocco and Polisario have fruitlessly bickered as from 1991 who should given voting power in a referendum concerning the future of the area. As from 2004 Morocco rejected a referendum concerning a possible independence and came with a proposal for autonomy under Moroccan flag. Polisario hold to a referendum concerning independence. But according to van Walsum discussions have little sense, because the Security Council will never force Morocco to accept a referendum concerning an independent Western Sahara. Now the negotiations stopped. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is silent in all languages concerning the file. The good mood of van Walsum (73), a tall slim figure, seems not to have suffered under the circomstances. In his house in The Hague, beside a thermos with coffee, he explains in detail three years negotiating for the Western Sahara.
Q – Did you force the situation because you didn’t like to go on as mediator?
A - I cannot say that I have detonates the matter in order to get out myself, but on the other hand I did not think: take care, you make yourself impossible. I got the feeling that I had been put down here to keep the matter going on indefinitely. Of all sides I got to hear: Go on, stick on to it! Things are heading in the right direction. I got an awful lot of compliments, especially from Algeria that supports Polisario. It was marvellous how everything went on. Then I thought: no sorry, something does smell very wrong here.
Q - You felt abused?
A - I thought: if I do not give my opinion now, then in a year time I will feel incredibly abused.. Nobody believes, as it happens, in a solution. Morocco over-estimates its own position and Polisario and Algeria have no other aim but keeping on the negotiation process until the Security Council becomes so desperate that he agrees with a referendum under the Saharawi concerning independency. Polisario wanted to use the normal game rules of decolonisation and self-determination, because the Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony. Morocco has said for its part that those game rules do not apply because the area before the colonisation was theirs. When Morocco was starting to march into the area, Algeria has very expressly insisted on application of Chapter VII of the UN Charter which makes it possible to act military against aggression. By ignoring this call the Security Council has made from the start clear that he wants no use of violence. That has become a clear line, each time the Security Council has rejected the enforcement of a solution. That is holy in this file.
Q - Polisario and Algeria don’t longer want to negotiate with you. By pointing out so clearly your personal opinion, have you disturbed the negotiations?
A - All parties have met in Manhasset, a suburb of New York. That consultation was a mockery, a farce, a false game. If I continue to sit here as a good boy and do what is expected of me then I will mediate in not four rounds, but eight, twelve or sixteen rounds. There is no solution, because the two main points of view of the parties are irreconcilable on the point about a referendum concerning independence. For Polisario that is essential and for Morocco it is unthinkable. You will never resolve that problem. Of course I could simply have resigned, but I thought: let’s try to do it a bit different this time. If on my round talks with the Heads of Government I explain that this a dead end road. If I put this simply as it is in my report. A bit playing va banque, take a gamble. If you are so convinced that the negotiations are completely blocked, then it is not entirely crazy to give the developments a shot in a certain direction. The problem is that I don’t know which direction it goes on now. You say that they no longer want to have me as mediator, well that is fine with me, because I’m not that eager anymore to go on too. But I have always said to Morocco as well as Polisario: if you have enough of me, just write a letter to the Secretary-General. Then the problem will be fixed in a minute. But I didn’t get any news of the Secretary-General that he has received something of the kind. That means that I at this moment a really have no idea how the situation is. Actually I don’t know anything at all.
Q - They criticise you not taking serious the rights of decolonised people. They call you immoral.
A - I think that is such a terribly unfair argument. The moral dilemma is that Polisario is more on the right side than Morocco. But because the Security Council will never force Morocco into a referendum on independence, they actually choose for the status quo. That is to say: a deadlock with no prospects. Polisario is 33 years in the camps. Is it morally fair to accept that another generation of Polisario children grow up in the camps? I suggest something else: try to convince Polisario to enter into hard negotiations for a serious and guaranteed form of autonomy under Moroccan flag. I have visited the Polisario camps, but I've never had the opportunity to ask the opinion of the residents about this option. I say: you must take into account the reality. Polisario has the legally the best papers, but because of the way the Security Council has chosen to act, it never was of any use for 33 years. My suggestion, but that is entirely my own opinion and certainly not taken over by the Secretary-General, is that the Security Council should call both parties to temporarily experiment with autonomy without independence. Maybe they discover that this is the only way out of the deadlock. If it does not work, they can go back to the initial position without nobody loosing anything. I think that is certainly not an immoral proposal. If Polisario wants to talk about autonomy than they have a very strong position in the talks. Morocco is desperately looking for legitimacy.
Q - You have your presented your opinion to the members of the Security Council separated from the report of the Secretary-General. Polisario and Algeria suggest: van Walsum is no longer supported.
A - I have not committed insubordination! The Secretary-General did in this case not put my personal opinion in the official report. He left it out to avoid whatever kind of sensitivity. Quite logically, I found that regrettable, but that does not automatically means a disagreement. It obviously would be weird if I was not able to report my findings to the Security Council. I had the freedom to report it to the Council and that was what I have done.
Q - In substance, there is no disagreement?
A - I must confess that I do not know. I do not know the reason why the Secretary-General did not want my opinion in his report to the Security Council.
Q – When you started as a mediator have you been in touch with your predecessor, the American diplomat James Baker?
A - Yes, I've met him in Houston and we talked extensively. He found it a bit incredible that someone took that job, haha.
Q – He seems to have been right.
A - Yes, but I didn’t hold on for seven years, I've concluded after two and a half years that it’s not working.
UPDATE II: Reuters chimes in with a report on this very well worth reading, with just a couple of minor and forgiveable flaws: the 1963 war did not stretch into 1964, and the Moroccan claims to western Algeria are by now ancient history, even if Rabat persists in refusing parliamentary ratification of the border for symbolic reasons. (Of course, being ancient history now didn't prevent the irredentist lunacy of the Moroccan 50s/60s from affecting Algeria's initial involvement in Western Sahara, and it seems to have remained an important influence on Mouradia policy-making well into the 80s. But the article seems to say that Morocco is still actively pushing for annexation of western Algeria, and this is plain wrong.)
UPDATE III: More than 24 hours have passed, and still not a word of comment from either Morocco, Algeria or Polisario. As far as I'm concerned, anything that manages to shut them all three up is worthy of respect.