The Security Council this afternoon decided to reduce the military component of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) by 20 per cent -- from 288 to 230 personnel -- while extending the Mission's mandate until 30 November. This action was taken on the understanding that it would not impair effective monitoring of the cease-fire.
Through its unanimous adoption of resolution 1056 (1996), the Council suspended temporarily the identification process, which aims at identifying those eligible to participate in the planned referendum. The suspension would remain in effect until both the Government of Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) had demonstrated their commitment to resuming and completing the process without further obstacles.
According to the resolution, today's temporary suspension of the work of the Identification Commission did not imply any lessening of the Council's resolve to secure implementation of the settlement plan. Under that plan, the parties agree to the holding of a referendum to enable the people of Western Sahara to choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The Council urged the two parties to demonstrate the political will, cooperation and flexibility to permit resumption and early completion of the identification process. It also called on them to cooperate with the United Nation on such aspects of the settlement plan as the release of Saharan political prisoners and the exchange of prisoners of war.
While reminding the parties that it would have to consider other measures if significant progress was not made during the upcoming mandate period, the Council stressed its readiness to support resumption of the identification process as soon as the parties made that possible. It supported the Secretary-General's proposal to maintain a political office to continue dialogue with the parties and the two neighbouring countries.
The meeting, which was called to order at 12:54 p.m., was adjourned at 12:58 p.m.
The text of the resolution adopted by the Council reads as follows:
"The Security Council,
"Reaffirming all its previous resolutions on the question of Western Sahara,
"Having considered the report of the Secretary-General of 8 May 1996 (S/1996/343),
"Noting the views expressed by the Government of Morocco as set out in the report of the Secretary-General and in the memorandum attached to the letter addressed to the Secretary-General dated 10 May 1996 (S/1996/345),
"Noting also the views expressed by the Polisario Front as set out in the report of the Secretary-General and in the memorandum attached to the letter addressed to the Secretary-General dated 23 May 1996 (S/1996/366),
"Noting also the letter dated 23 May 1996 from the Current Chairman and the Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity (S/1996/376),
"Reaffirming its commitment to assist the parties to achieve a just and lasting solution to the question of Western Sahara,
"Stressing the importance it attaches to the maintenance of the cease- fire, as an integral part of the settlement plan,
"Recognizing that, despite all the difficulties, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has to date identified more than 60,000 persons,
"Reiterating that, for progress to be achieved, the two parties must have a vision of the post-referendum period,
"1. Reiterates its commitment to the holding, as soon as possible, of a free, fair and impartial referendum for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in accordance with the settlement plan which has been accepted by the two parties referred to above;
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"2. Deeply regrets the fact that the required willingness does not exist to give MINURSO the cooperation needed for it to resume and complete the identification process, and that there has therefore been no significant progress towards implementation of the settlement plan;
"3. Agrees with the recommendation of the Secretary-General that the identification process be suspended until such time as both parties provide concrete and convincing evidence that they are committed to resuming and completing it without further obstacles, in accordance with the settlement plan;
"4. Supports the proposal of the Secretary-General to reduce the strength of the military component of MINURSO by 20 per cent, on the understanding that this will not impair its operational effectiveness in monitoring the cease-fire;
"5. Endorses the view of the Secretary-General that the decision to suspend temporarily the work of the Identification Commission and to reduce the number of civilian police and military personnel does not imply any lessening of resolve to secure the implementation of the settlement plan;
"6. Supports the proposal of the Secretary-General, in the context of the settlement plan, to maintain a political office to continue the dialogue with the parties and the two neighbouring countries and to facilitate any other effort that could help set the parties on the course towards an agreed formula for the resolution of their differences and encourages the Secretary- General to consider ways of strengthening the role of this office;
"7. Urges the two parties to demonstrate without further delay the political will, cooperation and flexibility necessary to permit the resumption and early completion of the identification process and the implementation of the settlement plan; notes with satisfaction that the parties have respected the cease-fire, which is an integral part of the settlement plan, and calls upon them to continue to do so;
"8. Also calls upon the parties, as a demonstration of good will, to cooperate with the United Nations in the implementation of certain aspects of the settlement plan, such as the release of Saharan political prisoners and the exchange of prisoners of war on humanitarian grounds, as soon as possible, to accelerate implementation of the settlement plan in its entirety;
"9. Encourages the parties to consider additional ways to create confidence between themselves in order to remove obstacles to implementation of the settlement plan;
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"10. Decides to extend the mandate of MINURSO, on the basis proposed by the Secretary-General in his report of 8 May 1996, until 30 November 1996;
"11. Reminds the parties that if significant progress is not achieved during this period, the Council will have to consider other measures, including possible further reductions in the strength of MINURSO, but stresses its readiness to support the resumption of the identification process as soon as the parties have demonstrated the necessary political will, cooperation and flexibility, as called for in paragraph 7 above;
"12. Requests the Secretary-General to continue his efforts with the parties to break the impasse blocking the implementation of the settlement plan, and to submit a report to the Council by 31 August 1996 on the outcome of his efforts;
"13. Also requests the Secretary-General to keep the Council closely informed of all significant developments, including their humanitarian aspects, and to submit a comprehensive report on the implementation of this resolution by 10 November 1996;
"14. Decides to remain seized of the matter."
Report of Secretary-General
The Security Council had before it an 8 May report of the Secretary- General on the situation in Western Sahara (document S/1996/343) which recommends the extension of the mandate of MINURSO for six months at a reduced strength. The mandate was most recently extended until 31 May by Council resolution 1042 (1996) of 31 January.
The Secretary-General recommends the suspension of the stalled identification process until such time as both parties -- the Government of Morocco and POLISARIO -- provide convincing evidence that they are committed to resuming and completing it without further obstacles, in accordance with the settlement plan, which was accepted by the two parties on 30 August 1988 and approved by the Council on 27 June 1990 in its resolution 658 (1990). The plan involves the holding of a free and fair referendum to enable the people of Western Sahara to choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
In the report, the Secretary-General bases his recommendation on his conclusion that, despite three years of efforts by his Acting Special Representative, Erik Jensen, as well as visits by a special envoy and by a special mission of the Council, the required willingness does not exist to give MINURSO the necessary cooperation to resume and complete the identification process of potential voters within a reasonable period of time.
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As a result of the suspension of the identification process, the remaining members of the Identification Commission would leave the mission area at the end of this month, with the exception of a few required for the orderly closure of the remaining centres and the storage of the identification data -- to be transferred to the United Nations Office at Geneva for safe-keeping.
Suspension of identification would also entail the withdrawal of the civilian police component -- except for a small contingent of officers to maintain contacts with both sides -- and the reduction of the military component by 20 per cent -- from 288 to 230. The number of team sites in the field would not be reduced and neither patrolling activity nor daily contacts with both sides would be curtailed.
While proposing a reduction of both the military and police components, the Secretary-General states that his recommendations in no way imply a lessening of resolve to discharge his Council mandate, and that the United Nations should keep searching for ways to build upon the existing achievement of identifying more than 60,000 applicants. In that regard and, as part of a continuing effort to overcome the obstacles, he proposes to maintain a political office, headed by the Acting Special Representative and staffed by a small number of political officers, in Laayoune, with a liaison office in Tindour. That office will maintain a dialogue with the parties and with the two neighbouring countries (Algeria and Mauritania) in seeking a resolution of differences. In addition, he has instructed his Acting Special Representative to continue to explore confidence-building measures that might allow the resumption of contacts among all concerned.
According to the report, the POLISARIO has reaffirmed its readiness to participate in the identification of applicants who are members of subfractions included in the 1974 census, that is, subfractions for which lists of sheikhs or alternates from both parties have already been established. The POLISARIO continues to decline to cooperate in the identification of another group of applicants -- certain tribal groups which were not represented by subfraction in the 1974 census. It would agree to identify only individuals included in the census and members of their immediate family. Morocco maintains that all persons for whom applications were received on time should be presented for identification, without discrimination between tribal groups. It has agreed to resume the identification process by starting with members of non-contested groups, on the understanding that all applicants would eventually be processed.
The Security Council by its resolution 1042 (1996) of 31 January had requested the Secretary-General to report by 15 May on progress in overcoming the stalemate hindering the completion of the identification process and the consequent lack of progress towards completion of the settlement plan. The
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Council had supported, in the absence of meaningful progress, the Secretary- General's intention to submit for consideration a detailed programme for a phased withdrawal of MINURSO.
In a letter dated 10 May from the Permanent Representative of Morocco, which contains a memorandum on the question of Western Sahara (document S/1996/345), Morocco, reaffirming its respect for the settlement plan, states it has done all it can to facilitate the plan's implementation. It goes on to say that the other party to the agreement has thwarted the settlement plan and has "given itself the right to veto and sole authority over operations which are the competence of the Secretary-General". Any solution other than a return to the Council's exercising of its authority would be contrary to the settlement plan.
Morocco refers to a statement in a 24 November 1995 report of the Secretary-General which indicated that the basic obstacle to continuing and completing the identification process relates to certain tribal groups and to persons not resident in the Territory in whose identification the POLISARIO does not agree to participate. The settlement plan mandated the Identification Commission to consider applications from persons who claim the right to participate in the referendum on the grounds that they are Western Saharans and were omitted from the 1974 census.
The memorandum states that the various reports of the Secretary-General have always reaffirmed the right of every Saharan, whether or not resident in the Territory, to participate in the referendum. The Council, however, in December 1995 chose to set aside the Secretary-General's recommendations in that regard and set the precedent that nothing could be done without the agreement of both parties, even though the settlement plan does not demand their cooperation. Morocco expresses the hope that the Council would now compel the recalcitrant party to respect the settlement plan and abide by the Secretary-General's proposals. The identification process is a prerogative of the United Nations which is exercised by the Identification Commission under the authority of the Secretary-General. The settlement plan offers no alternatives.
The Council also had before it a memorandum from the Frente Polisario (document S/1996/366), which states that the possible failure of the peace process is attributable to open Moroccan opposition to a free and fair referendum and a lack of firmness by MINURSO in the management of the peace plan. Other causes of the possible failure include Morocco's opposition to the principle of transparency, and a lack of firmness by the United Nations in the face of Moroccan intransigence.
Moroccan authorities engaged in large-scale fraud, and thousands of Moroccan citizens have been transferred into the territory to be included in the voters lists, the memorandum states. Morocco rejected direct dialogue with the Polisario, and its high-level authorities have said they will not accept referendum results favouring independence. Morocco's opposition to transparency, seen in its refusal to allow the Identification Commission to publish its results, shows its intention to impose a procedure incompatible with a free and fair referendum.
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The international community has a responsibility to bring the decolonization of Western Sahara to its completion, in order to prevent a regional crisis of dangerous and unpredictable proportions, the memorandum adds. The occupying Power must respect the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination. The identification of voters may be resumed, under conditions of transparency. An appeal may be issued to both parties to begin direct negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations.
A letter dated 23 May from the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, and the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Council expresses deep concern at the present impasse in the implementation of the settlement plan as a result of difficulties encountered in the identification process of the voters. It states that any relaxation of efforts of the United Nations in the implementation of the settlement plan could further complicate the current impasse. Notwithstanding the obstacles thus far encountered, it is important for the United Nations to remain actively involved in pursuit of the settlement of the conflict. Given the nature of the situation, we feel that it is important to do everything possible with a view to encouraging direct dialogue between the two parties so as to promote confidence and trust and thus create the most propitious conditions to address the pending problems.
"It is our earnest hope that the United Nations Security Council will ensure that nothing will be done that could jeopardize the implementation process of the settlement plan", it continues. In addition to ensuring that the present cease-fire continues to be respected by both parties, it is hoped that efforts will be deployed to create the necessary conditions for an early resumption of the identification process in conditions of transparency and in conformity with the provisions of the plan. The letter reaffirms the OAU commitment to support the United Nations efforts and to work closely together towards the
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implementation of the settlement plan.
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