Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

James Baker’s Mediation between Morocco and POLISARIO

The End of Spanish Rule in the Sahara: James Baker Morocco history
James Baker

In December 1997, a new Secretary General, Kofi Annan, appointed a personal envoy, the former US secretary of state James Baker, to mediate. Baker persuaded Morocco and POLISARIO to restart the identification process, and this was largely completed by September 1998, except for three tribal groups. The process then stalled and restarted only in mid-1999, after POLISARIO and the Moroccan government accepted an UN proposal on these remaining groups. That was completed in December 1999, but both parties then disagreed on the appeals process and the repatriation of refugees.

The process has been stalled ever since, despite Baker’s numerous meetings. In September 2000, the Moroccan side hinted that, provided POLISARIO acknowledged Moroccan sovereignty and territorial integrity, there could be a definitive solution on the basis of autonomy. POLISARIO rejected this idea outright and insisted on the original settlement plan. When the Moroccan government failed to come up with detailed proposals, Baker prepared his own Framework Agreement. During an initial five-year period, the Western Sahara, with a locally elected administration, would have limited autonomy. The Moroccan government would control foreign relations, national security, external defence, currency, and postal and telecommunications systems, and the Moroccan flag would fly. After five years, there would be a referendum. POLISARIO rejected this. Baker then prepared a Peace Plan for Self-Determination for the People of Western Sahara, which was much the same, except that it was reformulated so that each side would have a fair chance to win the referendum. In 2003, Baker presented the plan to the Security Council, but the Moroccan government refused it, because it offered the chance of Saharan independence. POLISARIO accepted the plan, and the UN Security Council adopted it (Resolution 1495). Moroccan counter-proposals, in late 2003 and early 2004, simply repeated the offer of autonomy and made no mention of self-determination. So, in April 2004, the Secretary General gave up and threatened that, if both parties failed to accept the peace plan, MINURSO would be shut down. Baker resigned in June 2004.