Address to the United Nations Fourth Committee


Douglas K Dryden

former US military representative to the

Special Liaison Office of MINURSO, Western Sahara

7 October 1996

Your Excellency Ambassador Kittikhoun and distinguished members of the Fourth Committee:

First, thank you for this opportunity to address your panel on the subject of the Western Sahara. I know that my time is brief and I appreciate your patience, but I must also ask for your forbearance, as of necessity my remarks must be constrained by the time allotted and are therefore rather direct.

My background is both academic and military and in both cases I have concentrated on international relations, a discipline that is seemingly rare amongst Americans. What may seem to many of the representatives here in this organization as a "difficult attitude" when Americans speak of affairs outside our boundaries is merely a different perspective and a variance perhaps in how we regard our values.

This "difficult attitude" has manifested itself within the last several years by seeing the US payments owed to the United Nations withheld by our Congress with the support of our Executive branch, irrespective of political persuasion - a rare occurrence in American politics today. The principle concern, as you all well know by now, is the American preoccupation with the subject of reform in the enormous bureaucracy of the United Nations. The Western Sahara provides a clear example, among others, of why the American government has taken such a dismal view of the quality and pace of reform as promised.

We are now entering the sixth year of what has been defined as a six-month process, at a continuing cost to the UN of millions of dollars a month. The only real change that has occurred has been an increase in the level of frustration at the stultifying situation within the MINURSO mission on the part of all observers and interested parties, except, of course, on the part of the Kingdom of Morocco.

In the sixteen years of warfare leading to the cease-fire in 1991, the Moroccan military, never able to defeat their Saharawi adversaries, were nevertheless able to secure a position which, in military terminology, left them "in command of the field." While the political solution to the stalemate lies languishing, Morocco enjoys the possession of the enormous phosphate deposits and the rich fishing grounds of the Atlantic coast. Time is on their side. Any delay, for however long, works to their advantage and to the severe disadvantage of the Saharawi refugees and the image of the United Nations.

It is not my intention to point out the mistakes throughout this process, or lack of it, that have been compounded over time - that should already be painfully obvious, as it is already obvious to countless observers world-wide. Of course, the Western Sahara does not command the attention that is drawn to Bosnia or Chechnya, but the purpose of the mission there and the concern here should be with justice. And there are observers in the US Congress and the administration who share that concern.

I will, however, point out some examples:

For several years, there have been problems in the manner in which the lists of eligible voters have been compiled on the part of the Moroccans - continued claims and evidence that the Moroccans were substituting voters for those that they allowed to register with the Identification Commission. A fair and impartial process is derailed by the fact that access to and exit from UN offices is tightly controlled on the Moroccan side. Only those Saharawi that the Moroccans allow can register, and since there are claims that the voting receipts are then surrendered to the Moroccan authorities, there is no assurance that those who do register will be the ones allowed to vote. This should be well known by now.

Early on, it was decided that each side, Morocco and the POLISARIO, would compile its own lists of eligible voters - a process inviting corruption - and then have the names subjected to the decision of the Identification Commission to certify the eligibility of each voter in individual hearings, assuring that a referendum would not be held for years under the best of circumstances. A further delay of gargantuan potential occurred when Morocco was allowed to add for consideration an additional 200% of the population of the Spanish Sahara of 1974 - adding approximately 160,000 petitioners - based on the presence of some 50 people at that time who were otherwise unaffiliated with a local tribe or fraction. If this holds true, as many as 250,000 people (by Identification Commission estimates) would have to be considered. This should be familiar.

Delays are created for the most specious of reasons. The question of an adverb in the MINURSO schedule shut down the identification process for a week (at a standard cost of $100,000 per day), finally settled with an exchange of formal letters, when a simple telephone call would have sufficed. A delay of some ten weeks occurred in the summer of 1994 when the Moroccans disputed the attendance of observers of the Organization of African Unity, despite the fact that the matter had already been settled the year before.

But other serious discrepancies were reported. The atmosphere at the MINURSO Force Headquarters in Laayoune is practically a siege mentality. The mission is not allowed to function independently, but as a creature of the Moroccans. Moroccans regularly gain access to the Headquarters compound with an air that it is, after all, theirs. It is the only UN mission that I am aware of where the flag of one of the parties is required to fly alongside that of the UN. Telephones were tapped. Mail was tampered with. Rooms of MINURSO personnel were searched.

Despite continued attempts to report serious problems such as these and others to UN New York, the complaints were routinely buried in Laayoune by UN officials. Once they were finally brought to the attention of UN Headquarters, they were initially dismissed as "not serious." Media attention in the US, though, compelled the dispatch of the new and key element of UN reform - the Inspector General - to Laayoune to investigate allegations of UN mismanagement. During his cursory investigation, MINURSO personnel discovered that he could not grant protection to any UN employee, thus any testimony about mission shortcomings would be at the risk of one's career. An even more glaring and fatal weakness is his inability to criticize a member nation, making him impotent to correct practically any discrepancy. The report, predictably, was useless, and the idea of an Inspector-General who can not truly inspect is an example that the US government can cite of lack of true reform.

The differences between the Moroccans and the POLISARIO in the manner in which they cooperate (or not) with the mission can be a startling contrast. Despite clear language in the mission statement concerning freedom of movement of mission personnel, this simply does not exist on the Moroccan side. With the POLISARIO, however, freedom of movement has only been constrained on occasion to draw attention to the Moroccan lack of it. Force Headquarters would respond to the POLISARIO restrictions as if they were a violation, despite the fact that such restrictions were routinely accepted from the Moroccans.

Finally, and from a more speculative viewpoint, there seems to be a pervasive attitude that if hostilities occur again, the Moroccan army would be the clear victor because of their size and technological advantage. Such considerations did not result in a Moroccan victory in the sixteen years of fighting that led to the cease-fire, and it does not necessarily follow that they would now. Any American veteran of Vietnam, any Russian veteran of Afghanistan, any French veteran of Algeria, anyone who has a passing acquaintance with military history surely should know that a return to hostilities would not be a solution in favour of Morocco. The POLISARIO, I am convinced, have a clear capability, if planned and executed correctly, to seriously effect a military decision. The example of Eritrea is well known to them and is a comfort to those who would face a struggle of more years. Continued frustration and threats of a return to hostilities should not be taken lightly. With the sensitive situation in Algeria to consider as well, a return to conflict could well be devastating to a larger area.

King Hassan II has shown beyond any doubt that he is wise and experienced, and has provided a major service to the cause of peace between Israel and the Arab world. Only several days ago, he hosted Yassir Arafat on his return from Washington, and he has enjoyed, perhaps more than any other leader in the Islamic world, the confidence of the Israeli leadership. He has also been a close friend of the United States, and his wisdom and counsel have been a boon to world affairs. Surely such a great leader, if made aware of the serious abuses of the process in the Western Sahara, would take concrete steps to correct those mistakes.

A solution must exist that will take into account both sides - a solution can not be imposed. But a serious revamping of the process - a hard decision to be sure, but a necessary one - must be made by those of you who have the courage and foresight to do it. The world and its generations to come must expect nothing less.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your time and kind consideration.

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