29/06/2001
Press Release
SC/7090



Security Council

4342nd Meeting (PM)


SECURITY COUNCIL EXTENDS MINURSO MANDATE TO 30 NOVEMBER,


UNANIMOUSLY ADOPTING RESOLUTION 1359 (2001)


The Security Council this afternoon extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 30 November by unanimously adopting resolution 1359 (2001).


The Council took this action on the basis of the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Western Sahara, which contained, among other things, a draft Framework Agreement the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, James A. Baker III, had presented to President Bouteflika of Algeria.


By the terms of the resolution, the Council encouraged the parties to discuss the draft Framework Agreement and to negotiate any specific changes they would like to see in that proposal, as well as to discuss any other proposal for a political solution.  It emphasized that by engaging in those negotiations, the parties would not prejudice their final positions, as, according to the rules of consultation established by the Personal Envoy, nothing would be agreed until everything had been agreed.


The Council urged the parties to solve the problem of the fate of people unaccounted for, and called on the parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to release without further delay all those held since the start of the conflict.  It requested the Secretary-General to provide an assessment of the situation before the end of the present mandate, and, as appropriate, recommendations on the future mandate and composition of MINURSO.


The Council fully supported the efforts of the Secretary-General to invite all the parties to meet directly or through proximity talks, under the auspices of his Personal Envoy.


The meeting, which started at 12:33 p.m., adjourned at 12:35 p.m.


Resolution


The full text of resolution 1359 (2001), contained in document S/2001/641, reads as follows:


The Security Council,


Recalling all its previous resolutions on Western Sahara, in particular resolution 1108 (1997) of 22 May 1997, and the statement by its President of 19 March 1997 (S/PRST/1997/16),


Recalling also its resolution 1308 (2000) of 17 July 2000, and the relevant principles contained in the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel of 9 December 1994,


Reaffirming the provisions contained in paragraph 2 of Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations,


“Having considered the report of the Secretary-General of 20 June 2001 (S/2001/613),


Expressing full support for the role and work of the Personal Envoy,


Reiterating full support for the ongoing efforts of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to implement the Settlement Plan and agreements adopted by the parties to hold a free, fair and impartial referendum for the self-determination of the people of the Western Sahara,


Taking into consideration the Official Proposals submitted by the Polisario Front in order to overcome the obstacles preventing the implementation of the Settlement Plan contained in annex IV to the report of the Secretary-General,


Taking into consideration also the draft Framework Agreement on the Status of Western Sahara contained in annex I to the report of the Secretary-General, which would provide for a substantial devolution of authority, which does not foreclose self-determination, and which indeed provides for it,


Taking into consideration further the Memorandum of the Government of Algeria on the Draft Status for Western Sahara contained in annex II to the report of the Secretary-General,


Reaffirming its commitment to assist the parties to achieve a just and lasting solution to the question of Western Sahara,


“1.   Decides, as recommended by the Secretary-General in his report of 20 June 2001, to extend the mandate of MINURSO until 30 November 2001;


“2.   Supports fully the efforts of the Secretary-General to invite all the parties to meet directly or through proximity talks, under the auspices of his Personal Envoy, and encourages the parties to discuss the draft Framework Agreement and to negotiate any specific changes they would like to see in this proposal, as well as to discuss any other proposal for a political solution, which may be put forward by the parties, to arrive at a mutually acceptable agreement;


“3.   Affirms that while discussions referred to above go on, the proposals submitted by the Polisario Front, as referred to above, will be considered;


“4.   Recalls that according to the rules of the consultations established by the Personal Envoy nothing would be agreed until everything had been agreed, and therefore emphasizes that by engaging in these negotiations the parties will not prejudice their final positions;


“5.   Urges the parties to solve the problem of the fate of people unaccounted for, and calls on the parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to release without further delay all those held since the start of the conflict;


“6.   Requests the Secretary-General to provide an assessment of the situation before the end of the present mandate, and, as appropriate, recommendations on the future mandate and composition of MINURSO;


“7.   Decides to remain seized of the matter.”


Background


The Security Council had before it the latest report of the Secretary-General on the situation concerning Western Sahara (document S/2001/613) of 20 June, submitted pursuant to Council resolution 1349 (2001), by which the Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 30 June.


The report notes that at present, 1,479 Moroccan prisoners of war are still being held in camps in the Tindouf area of Algeria, most for more than 20 years.  Their continued detention is now a serious humanitarian issue in view of their age, state of health and duration of captivity.  The Secretary-General urges all parties to cooperate with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the humanitarian endeavour of repatriation.  During the reporting period, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) continued to carry out its mandated responsibilities for the Western Saharan refugees in the Tindouf camps and to coordinate and cooperate with MINURSO.  An assessment of the humanitarian welfare of the Saharan refugees in the camps concluded that their situation was very precarious.


During the reporting period, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, James A. Baker III, met with officials of the Morocco to determine if, as the administrative Power in Western Sahara, Morocco was prepared to offer or support some devolution of authority for all inhabitants and former inhabitants of the Territory that would be genuine, substantive and in keeping with international norms.


While committed to the Settlement Plan, Morocco expressed the view that the way in which it was being implemented meant that two thirds of the Saharan population would be excluded from the referendum.  In response to resolution 1309 (2000), which had asked the parties to search for a definitive solution to the question of Western Sahara, Morocco was prepared to initiate a sincere and frank dialogue with the other party.  It was the first time that Morocco had expressed readiness to engage in a direct dialogue.


In rejecting the Moroccan proposal, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) reiterated that it would cooperate and adhere to any dialogue that would be within the framework of the Settlement Plan.  In a meeting between the Personal Envoy and the Secretary-General of POLISARIO, Mohamed Abdelaziz, in May, a draft “Framework agreement on the status of Western Sahara”, contained in the report’s Annex, was reviewed.  Mr. Abdelaziz responded by saying that anything other than independence meant integration with Morocco and that he did not want to consider or discuss the proposal.


In May, the Personal Envoy met with President Bouteflika and other senior Algerian officials in Algiers to present the draft framework agreement, which he was confident Morocco would support.  The President pointed out that the proposed document presented certain weaknesses and imbalances and attached a memorandum to his letter expressing that view (also contained in the report’s Annex).


The proposed framework agreement confers on the population of Western Sahara the right to elect their own executive and legislative bodies and to have exclusive competence over local government administration, territorial budget and taxation, law enforcement, internal security, social welfare, culture, education, commerce, transportation, agriculture, mining, fisheries and industry, environmental policy, housing and urban development, water and electricity, roads and other basic infrastructure.  Election of the executive should result in the election of the candidates supported by POLISARIO.  Within five years, a referendum on the final status of the Territory would be held.


The Secretary-General concurs with the view of his Personal Envoy that, given the history of the United Nations operation in Western Sahara over the past 10 years and the failure of the parties to come up with any concrete proposals during three rounds of consultations from June to September 2000, there are serious doubts as to whether the Settlement Plan can be implemented in its present form.  He hopes, therefore, that Morocco, POLISARIO, Algeria and Mauritania will agree to meet to discuss with specificity the elements of the proposed framework agreement, which aims at reaching an early, durable and agreed resolution of the conflict over Western Sahara in a way that does not foreclose self-determination, but indeed provides for it.


Should the parties agree to discuss a political solution other than the implementation of the Settlement Plan, they would not prejudice their final positions.  Over the next five months, the Personal Envoy will invite Morocco, the POLISARIO, Algeria and Mauritania to engage, as parties, in direct or proximity talks, under his auspices, to discuss the proposed framework agreement.  While discussions go on, the Settlement Plan will be put on hold and the MINURSO Identification Commission would suspend its activities.


Should the Personal Envoy decide to continue with the discussions about the proposed framework agreement after the proposed five-month period, it is the Secretary-General’s intention to recommend to the Council that MINURSO’s mandate be extended to permit time for such negotiations.  If by the end of five months the Personal Envoy should conclude that it would not be worthwhile to continue with the consultations, the Council could decide to review the mandate of MINURSO and consider what further role it can play.  The Secretary-General, therefore, recommends that the Council extend the mandate of MINURSO for five months, until 30 November.


      Background on MINURSO


Western Sahara, a Territory on the north-west coast of Africa bordered by Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria, was administered by Spain until 1976.  Both Morocco and Mauritania claimed the Territory; those claims were rejected by the International Court of Justice in 1975 and also opposed by the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO), which sought independence.  Fighting between Morocco, which had "reintegrated" the Territory,

and the Frente POLISARIO, supported by Algeria, followed Spain’s withdrawal.  Mauritania renounced all claims in 1979.


A joint good offices mission by the Secretary-General and the Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) led to a 1988 settlement proposal, providing for a ceasefire and a referendum to choose between independence and integration with Morocco.  The proposal was accepted by both sides.  In 1990, the Security Council approved the Secretary-General’s proposal that a special representative would be responsible for the referendum, assisted by MINURSO, and, on 29 April 1991, MINURSO was established.  Among other things, it is mandated to monitor the ceasefire and verify withdrawal and confinement of troops, identify and register qualified voters, and organize and ensure a free and fair referendum and proclaim the results.  According to the Settlement Plan, a referendum in Western Sahara should have taken place in January 1992.


The Council supported the Secretary-General’s suggestion that military observers be deployed in the Territory to verify a ceasefire and cessation of hostilities.  Since the deployment of MINURSO in September 1991, the ceasefire has generally held.  The MINURSO began identifying potential voters in August 1994.  Progress was slow, and efforts to resolve differences between the parties -- notably over eligibility requirements -- were not successful.  In particular, the eligibility of members of three tribal groups was disputed.


The first part of a provisional voter list was published in 1999 and listed 84,251 eligible voters.  MINURSO’s Identification Commission subsequently received 79,000 appeals against the list.  Following an additional protocol on eligibility, identification from the three contested tribal groups was finished in December 1999, with 2,130 of 51,220 applicants found eligible.  The identification process is now complete, but the parties still hold divergent views regarding appeals, the repatriation of refugees and other crucial aspects of the Settlement Plan.  The Secretary-General has instructed his Special Representative to continue to seek reconciliation.


MINURSO’s mandate was extended until 30 June by Security Council resolution 1324 (2000) of 30 October 2000.  The Council stressed that it was extending the mandate of the Mission with the expectation that the two sides “will continue to try and resolve the multiple problems relating to the implementation of the Settlement Plan and try to agree upon a mutually acceptable political solution to their dispute”.  This extension followed a Secretary-General’s report recommending extension of the mandate but noting there had been no progress in overcoming obstacles to implementation of the Settlement Plan.


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