Improved political climate has not ended Western Sahara stalemate – UN report

21 April 2005 – The overall improved political climate in Western Sahara has not ended the stalemate between the parties on the core issue of how the people of the territory can exercise their right of self-determination, Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a new report recommending a six-month extension of the United Nations mission there to maintain stability.

Despite the encouraging recent reduction in negative rhetoric and increase in high-level contacts in the region, "the stalemate in this long-standing conflict has left tens of thousands of Saharan refugees living in deplorable conditions, relying for their survival on the generosity of the international community," Mr. Annan says in a report to the Security Council.

He expresses the hope that all concerned will show the political will necessary to break the current deadlock, thus enabling the UN to resume efforts to assist the parties in reaching a mutually acceptable political solution. In the meantime he urges both sides to refrain from inflammatory statements or taking actions – legal, political or military – which would complicate matters further or cause friction.

While he is pleased there have been no indications that either side plans to resume hostilities, which were formally suspended when the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) began operations in September 1991, Mr. Annan is concerned by the violations of a military agreement between Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro), which, among other things, prohibits tactical reinforcements and the redeployment or movement of troops in restricted areas.

Flagging a related matter, Mr. Annan expresses concern at the potential dangers for civilians who enter the heavily mined buffer strip and restricted areas. In this regard, he notes that illegal migrants are particularly vulnerable, as are civilian demonstrators. He also again calls on the POLISARIO to release all Moroccan prisoners of war without delay. He appealed to Morocco and the POLISARIO to cooperate fully with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in accounting for the missing.

On the Security Council's request that he examine the possibility of reducing the size of the Mission, Mr. Annan says that he remains convinced that this would not be advisable at this stage. Given the situation on the ground, MINURSO should be in the position to provide adequate and effective monitoring of the ceasefire, and, at a minimum, be maintained at its current strength through 31 October.

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