Jean-Jacques Cornish

Western Sahara fighting will force both UN and AU to act

The United Nations and African Union has expressed their fear that the three-decade truce in the Western Sahara is crumbling.

Morocco has has used military action to end a three-week blockade of his arterial road to West Africa by Saharawi’s demanding that the kingdom keep its promise to hold a referendum on the Western Sahara.

The territory has been under internationally-condemned Moroccan occupation since 1975 when General Franco’s fall forced Spain to end its colonial occupation.

Polisario, the Western Sahara liberation movement,  immediately turned their guns on the Moroccans and Mauritanians who sought to replace the Spanish.

Mauritania quickly abandoned such intentions, but the Moroccans, armed by the apartheid regime and other reactionary forces at the time, fought until a UN-negotiated truce in 1991.

More than 9000 people died in the fighting.

Only that part of the Western Sahara behind a sand wall, called a berm, is under Moroccan control.

United Nations peacekeepers monitor that area under Polisario’s control.

This  includes the town of Guergarat where the blockade, stopping 150 trucks daily is being enforced.

Polisario  has warned that any Moroccan military incursion into its territory will end the 1991 truce.

Morocco took almost a month to respond to the blockade.

Fearing a mutiny, Moroccan authorities have not issued their army with bullets.

Only the paramilitary gendarmerie is given live rounds.

The military action from Rabat this week entailed anti-tank rounds entrusted to units believed to be loyal to King Mohammed VI.

Polisario does not share the fears of the international and continental organisations about the escalation of violence.

The liberation movement is under pressure from Saharawi activists to force the kingdom to keep its promise, made as part of the truce agreement, to hold a referendum on self determination for Western Sahara.

A return to fighting will also force the African Union and United Nations to decide who holds ultimate responsibility for enforcing peace and getting a Western Sahara settlement.

The African Union, at the behest of Morocco, which joined it only three years ago after shunning it because to recognizes the government of the Western Sahara, wants the file to be carried by the United Nations where it has the support of France and the United States.

The United Nations has been unable to get any movement on a settlement.

The the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has not found a suitable replacement for former German President Horst Kohler who threw in the towel more than a year ago as his special enjoy to the Western Sahara.

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Jean-Jacques Cornish is a journalist and broadcaster who has been involved in the media all his adult life.

Starting as a reporter on his hometown newspaper, he moved briefly to then Rhodesia before returning to South Africa to become a parliamentary correspondent with the South African Press Association. He was sent to London as Sapa’s London editor and also served as special correspondent to the United Nations. He joined the then Argus group in London as political correspondent.

Returning to South Africa after 12 years abroad, he was assistant editor on the Pretoria News for a decade before becoming editor of the Star and SA Times for five years.

Since 1999 he’s been an independent journalist writing and broadcasting – mainly about Africa – for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape
Talk, Radio France International, PressTV, Radio Live New Zealand, Business Day, Mail & Guardian, the BBC, Agence France Press,
Business in Africa, Leadership, India Today, the South African Institute for International Affairs and the Institute for Security Studies.

He has hosted current affairs talk shows on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He appears as an African affairs pundit on SABC Africa and CNBC Africa.
He lectured in contemporary studies to journalism students at the Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Pretoria.

He speaks on African affairs to corporate and other audiences.
He has been officially invited as a journalist to more than 30 countries. He was the winner of the 2007 SADC award for radio journalism.

He’s been a member of the EISA team observing elections in Somaliland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Egypt and Tunsiai.

In October 2009 he headed a group of 39 African journalists to the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

In January 2010 he joined a rescue and paramedical team to earthquake struck Haiti.

He is immediate past president of the Alliance Francaise of Pretoria.

Jean-Jacques is a director of Giant Media. The company was given access to Nelson Mandela in his retirement years until 2009.
He is co-producer of the hour-long documentary Mandela at 90 that was broadcast on BBC in January 2009.