A dispute over the western Sahara threatened to wreck today's opening to the summit conference of the Organization of African Unity, writes Monitor contributor James Dorsey.
Although spokesmen for the OAU maintained that the summit would convene as scheduled, various embassies here have been told by the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry to disregard their invitation for the opening of the summit and to await further information.
Disputes over western Sahara, Libyan chairmanship of the OAU, and the representation of Chad have twice prevented the summit from convening. This time a committee of 12 African states is attempting to reconcile the two sides - the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, which is the liberation movement of the western Sahara, and Morocco, which in effect has annexed the region and refuses to sit with the Polisario.
Moroccan delegates here say they are seeking to implement the resolution from the 1981 OAU summit to hold a referendum on the region's future. But Polisario says the resolution is superseded by an OAU 1982 declaration, which it says recognizes their Saharan Arab Democratic Republic and thus allows it the right to participate in OAU councils.
Egypt, in the middle, has proposed to link an abstention of Polisario to attend the summit to the establishment of a date for the referendum in the Sahara within the next six months. Various African and Arab states are trying to convince Polisario that it has much to win by accepting such a compromise and that it otherwise runs the risk of being blamed for a possible failure to convene the Addis Ababa summit. But informed African sources believe the Polisario opposes the referendum out of fear that it may not come out of it victorious.