Western Sahara: Annan calls for peace talks as he recommends extension of UN mission

18 October 2006 – Morocco and the Frente Polisario should drop any preconditions and begin negotiations to try to find a lasting solution to their long-standing conflict in Western Sahara, Secretary-General Kofi Annan says, calling in a report for a six-month extension of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the disputed territory.

Such preconditions – Morocco’s demand that its sovereignty over Western Sahara be recognized and the Frente Polisario’s demand that there must be a referendum with independence as an option – can be discussed within the negotiations instead, Mr. Annan says in his latest report to the Security Council on the work of the Mission, known as MINURSO.

“Obviously such demands could be raised by the respective parties in the course of the negotiations,” Mr. Annan writes. “[But] such negotiations will not get off the ground unless the Security Council makes it absolutely clear that the exercise of self-determination is the only agreed aim of the negotiations.”

Mr. Annan says the neighbouring countries of Algeria and Mauritania should also be invited to participate in any peace talks.

The two military sides in the dispute do not have direct contact with each other, 15 years after a UN-sponsored ceasefire went into effect. Mr. Annan reports “this continues to have a negative effect on mutual confidence and prevents the adoption of procedures that could help to stabilize the situation during critical periods.”

This kind of impasse also does not benefit either Morocco or the Frente Polisario, according to Mr. Annan, citing the findings of his Personal Envoy Peter van Walsum following the envoy’s consultations with both sides, neighbouring States and other interested parties over the past six months.

The Secretary-General welcomes news that the exchange of family visits between Western Sahara and the refugee camps around Tindouf in Algeria – which bring together relatives who have not met in some cases for more than 30 years – are set to resume soon.

Given the role MINURSO plays in maintaining the ceasefire, Mr. Annan recommends that its mandate be extended until 30 April 2007, six months beyond its current expiration date.

MINURSO was established in 1991 to monitor the ceasefire and organize a referendum on self-determination in the former Spanish colony which Morocco has claimed as its own and where the Frente Polisario has been fighting for independence.

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