Western Sahara - MINURSO

Prepared by the Department of Public Information, United Nations
Not an official document of the United Nations -- Updated to 17 April 1998

UNITED NATIONS MISSION FOR THE REFERENDUM IN WESTERN SAHARA



RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

17 April 1998 Security Council renews mandate of UN Mission in Western Sahara until 20 July
From the Daily Highlights
The Security Council on Friday extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 20 July so it can proceed with its identification task, with the aim of completing the process. Acting unanimously on a resolution (S/RES/1163 (1998)), the Council called on the parties -- the Moroccan Government and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) -- to cooperate constructively with the United Nations, the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Charles Dunbar, and the Identification Commission, to complete the identification of voters phase of the settlement plan and the agreements reached for its implementation.

The 1988 Settlement Plan provides for a transitional period during which the Special Representative, assisted by MINURSO, would have responsibility over all matters relating to the referendum, including identification and registration of qualified voters. The referendum would offer the people of Western Sahara the choice between independence and integration with Morocco.

The Council again expressed its intention to consider positively the request for the remaining additional military and police assets for MINURSO proposed by the Secretary-General, as soon as he reported that the identification process had reached a stage where their deployment was essential. It called on the Governments of Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania to conclude respective status-of-forces agreements with the Secretary- General, and recalled that pending the conclusions of such agreements, the model status-of-forces agreement dated 9 October 1990 should apply provisionally. The Council asked the Secretary-General to report every 30 days on the progress of the implementation of the settlement plan and the agreements reached between the parties. It also asked the UN leader to inform the Council regularly about significant developments in the interim, and on the continuing viability of MINURSO's mandate.

19 February 1998 Over 90,000 potential referendum voters identified by UN Mission in Western Sahara, Secretary-General reports
From the Daily Highlights
The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has so far identified 90,537 potential voters in the poll, which will allow them to decide between independence or integration with Morocco. In January alone, 14,000 persons were identified -- the highest in one month achieved in one month since the process began.

The Secretary-General provided these figures in his latest communication to the Security Council covering MINURSO's activities (S/1998/142). In it, he appeals to the Council to support the continued preparations and provide the necessary resources for the full deployment of MINURSO. At the same time, the Secretary-General that there has been a "perceptible increase" in the level of tension between the Government of Morocco and the Frente Popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el-Hamra y del Rio de Oro. The tension is blamed on a number of factors, including interruptions in the identification process caused by the illness of participating sheikhs on either side. "There was a marked increase in anti-POLISARIO and sometimes anti-MINURSO coverage in the Moroccan press," the Secretary-General writes. Moroccan official public demonstrations have also been held to protest the negative testimony of sheikhs on the POLISARIO side.

The Secretary-General appeals to the parties to cooperate with MINURSO in the identification of persons from non-contested tribes.

4 February 1998 Secretary-General's Special Representative for Western Sahara reports progress in implementing peace plan
From the Daily Highlights
The United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Western Sahara has reported progress in the implementation of the peace plan for the territory. Charles Dunbar told reporters in New York on Wednesday that a substantial number of people had been identified in preparation for the holding of a referendum on Western Sahara. According to Mr. Dunbar, 60,000 out of about 75,000 people who were convoked have been identified as being "eligible or ineligible" to participate in the referendum.

The Secretary-General's Special Representative recalled that the process had broken down in late 1995 as Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) could not agree on the identification of certain groups of people. "And agreement now has been reached that there should be a referendum within a year", he noted, following the efforts of former United States Secretary of State, James Baker III.

The Special Representative, assisted by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), is facilitating the holding of the referendum to enable the people of Western Sahara to choose between independence and integration with Morocco.

[Full text of press briefing]

26 January 1998 Security Council sends engineering unit to conduct demining activities for UN Mission in Western Sahara
From the Daily Highlights
The Security Council on Monday approved the deployment of an engineering unit to support the demining activities of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). At the same time, the Council expressed its "intention to consider positively" a request by Secretary-General Kofi Annan for additional support to the Mission.

MINURSO is currently identifying potential voters to participate in the Referendum, which is scheduled to take place on 7 December. Under the terms of a settlement plan concluded between the Government of Morocco and the Frente Popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el-Hamra y del Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), the Referendum will offer the people of Western Sahara the choice between independence for the territory or integration with Morocco.

Unanimously adopting resolution 1148 (1998), the Security Council called on the Moroccan Government and the POLISARIO Front to cooperate so that the identification of voters can be completed on time. The Security Council expressed its intention to positively consider further deployments when the Secretary-General reports that the identification process has reached a stage where additional military and civilian police assets are essential. According to the timetable for the implementation of the settlement plan, all military observers should arrive by the end of May.

In his most recent report to the Security Council (S/1998/35), the Secretary-General said he could not confirm that the identification process would be concluded by the end of May as planned. He stressed the need to maintain the momentum achieved so far, and urges the early deployment of the units required for demining. The Council's action on Monday was a response to that request.

16 Jauary 1998 Secretary-General appeals for resources to prevent delays in holding United Nations Referendum in Western Sahara
From the Daily Highlights
Secretary-General Kofi Annan has cautioned that more resources are needed to ensure that the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) can stick to its timetable. The United Nations is organizing the referendum in accordance with agreements reached between the Government of Morocco and the Frente Popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el Hamra y del Rio de Oro (POLISARIO). The purpose of the referendum is to give the people of Western Sahara the opportunity to decide between independence and integration with Morocco.

In a new report to the Security Council (S/1998/35), the SecretaryGeneral says that under present conditions, "it will not be possible to confirm" that the identification of potential voters can be concluded by the end of May to permit the start of the transitional period in 7 June as planned. Strict adherence to the planned timetable, which calls for holding the referendum by the end of 1998, will require "the provision of the necessary resources in full and on time."

As of the end of last year, some $48.9 million was owed to the Mission by Member States which have not paid their assessed contributions. Because funds have not been made available for the deployment of the Engineering Unit, it will not commence its work in February as planned. That, in turn, will cause other delays in the settlement plan.

The Secretary-General reports "promising progress" since the identification process resumed last December after two years of delays. As of 10 January, over 70,000 potential voters have been identified. "Nevertheless, the completion of the identification phase by 31 May 1998 will be a daunting and arduous task, involving the convocation of more than 100,000 applicants and their identification in less than five months," he notes. With the Identification Commission operating at two-thirds strength, the Secretary-General says that the completion of the identification process by May is conceivable only if a full complement of qualified staff is in place by the end of January, and if there are no interruptions in the process.

A new agreement has meanwhile been reached between the Royal Moroccan Army and the POLISARIO Front to ensure that no hostility of any type is resumed. According to the report, the situation in the area remains calm. "There have been no significant indications that either side intends to resume hostilities in the near future. Both the Royal Moroccan Army and the Frente POLISARIO forces have been cooperative with military observers in their respective areas," the Secretary-General states.

15 Jauary 1998 United Nations refugee agency prepares to help over 100,000 people return to Western Sahara for referendum
From the Daily Highlights
The United Nations refugee agency is gearing up to help up to 120,000 people return to Western Sahara for the referendum scheduled to take place there on 7 December. The purpose of the United Nations-organized referendum will be to allow the Saharawi people to decide between independence for the territory or integration with Morocco. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will be working to help refugees who have been identified as eligible to participate in the referendum to voluntarily return to the territory with their family members in time to vote. UNHCR will focus on registering those willing to return among identified voters in the refugee camps in Algeria, as well as Saharawis living in Mauritania and elsewhere. It is expected to establish five reception centres in Western Sahara for the returnees.

Voluntary repatriation should begin in August, according to UNHCR. The eligible voters and their immediate family members will be transported by road from the refugee camps to a transit centre near Tindouf, Algeria. From there, most will be flown to the reception centres in Western Sahara. An estimated 105,000 persons will return under UNHCR auspices from Algeria, 10,000 from Mauritania, and 5,000 from other areas. The return movements are to be completed by mid-November, in time for the scheduled three-week referendum campaign leading up to the 7 December voting. After the referendum, UNHCR plans to undertake its standard post- return activities, concentrating on rehabilitation measures and on monitoring the returnees. In order to finance its operation, which is expected to cost $50 million, UNHCR will launch a special appeal later this month.

5 December 1997 UN official in Western Sahara says identification of voters is going well
From the Daily Highlights
Since the identification of voters resumed on 3 December, 556 voters have been registered as part of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. The referendum is being held to give the people of the territory a chance to decide between independence or integration with Morocco. Since two identification centres re-opened three days ago, more than five hundred voters have been processed.

The Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Erik Jensen, said the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) and the Government of Morocco are both working in support of MINURSO. "We've had excellent cooperation in terms of practical arrangements, we've had excellent cooperation in terms of the making available of the people necessary."

The settlement plan envisages that 12 identification centres will open by February 1998 to complete the process by May. Mr. Jensen said prospects for success are better now than ever before. "I've been here now for four and a half years; if I wasn't an optimist I wouldn't still be here. You've got to believe that there is a possible solution, even if it is very hard to reach, even if it takes a long time, even if it takes enormous perseverance, but you've got to believe that there is a possible solution otherwise you cannot work towards it."

The parties reached their agreements at talks mediated by former United States Secretary of State James Baker III. Both sides undertook to create a climate of tranquility so that the UN can conduct the referendum free of all constraints, intimidation and harassment.

3 December 1997 United Nations Mission for Referendum in Western Sahara resumes voter identification process
From the Daily Highlights
The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) resumed the voter identification process on Wednesday. According to United Nations Spokesman Fred Eckhard, the identification of voters began at two MINURSO centres at Laayoune and Smara. A total of 12 identification centres are scheduled for operation by February, including two in southern Morocco, two in Mauritania, two in the territory of Western Sahara, and two in the Tindouf area. Each centre will be staffed by two observers from each of the parties, one from the Organization of African Unity (OAU), and 8 to 10 MINURSO personnel. Under the timetable agreed to by the parties, the final list of voters will be issued by 26 July 1998.
20 November 1997 Robert Francis Kinloch appointed Head of UN Identification Commission for Western Sahara
From the Daily Highlights
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed Robert Francis Kinloch of the United States to head the UN Identification Commission for Western Sahara. According to United Nations Spokesman Fred Eckhard, Mr. Kinloch had been appointed to head the United Nations Development Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, the Government of that country said it was not yet ready for the establishment of that office. Mr. Kinloch, who will be working with the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), will oversee the identification of people eligible to participate in a referendum to choose between independence and integration with Morocco.

In a related development, the United Nations has also appointed Peter Miller of Canada as Police Commissioner for MINURSO.

In a recent report, the United Nations Secretary-General has said that the transitional process for the referendum can start in June 1998 and the referendum can be held at the end of that year. The Secretary-General says that the expansion of MINURSO for the full implementation of the settlement plan for Western Sahara is estimated at $129 million. The new cost estimates provide for the emplacement of 347 military observers, 1,273 military contingent personnel and 319 civilian police observers, supported by a staff of some 120 international civilian staff, 90 local staff and 750 polling officers. The funding will also include $3.1 million for mine clearance, $11 million for disarmament and demobilization programmes, and $10.9 million for transport operations.



Return to MINURSO cover page
Return to List of Current Missions