19 March 1997


19 March 1997

Press Release



The Security Council this afternoon expressed disappointment at the lack of progress on implementation of the settlement plan for Western Sahara and expressed strong support for the Secretary-General's efforts to overcome the current stalemate, urging the parties to cooperate fully with the Secretary- General's newly appointed Personal Envoy to the region.

Through a statement read out by its President, Zbigniew Maria Wlosowicz (Poland), the Council concurred with the Secretary-General that it was essential to move the process forward. It also concurred that it was essential to maintain the ongoing cease-fire and expressed the belief that the presence of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) had been essential in helping the parties to maintain their commitment to that cease-fire.

The meeting, which was called to order at 1:23 p.m., was adjourned at 1:27 p.m.

Presidential Statement

The full text of the statement, to be issued as document S/PRST/1997/16, reads as follows:

"The Security Council welcomes the interim report of the Secretary- General of 27 February 1997 on the situation concerning Western Sahara (S/1997/166). It is disappointed at the lack of progress on the implementation of the plan for the settlement of the question of Western Sahara noted in the report. It concurs with the Secretary-General's assessment that it is essential to maintain the cease-fire, a breach of which could seriously threaten regional stability, and that it is also essential to move the process forward. It believes that the presence of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has been essential in helping the parties to maintain their commitment to the cease-fire. It looks forward to receiving the Secretary-General's assessment of the future tasks and configuration of MINURSO.

"The Security Council expresses its strong support for the Secretary- General's efforts to overcome the current stalemate in implementing the settlement plan. In this context, it welcomes the appointment by the Secretary-General of a Personal Envoy to the region and urges the parties to cooperate fully with him."

Secretary-General's Report

When the Council met to consider the question of Western Sahara, it had before it a report of the Secretary-General (S/1997/166) in which he calls for new initiatives to move the Western Sahara settlement plan forward. The report was in response to Council resolution 1084 (1996) of 27 November 1996, in which it requested an interim report by 28 February 1997 on the Secretary- General's efforts to break the impasse blocking implementation of the plan.

The Secretary-General states that progress was possible, but only if the parties -- the Government of Morocco and Frente POLISARIO -- committed themselves fully to implementing the plan. Unless that happened, the continued presence of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) "will be increasingly questioned".

He states that he had been reviewing a number of questions related to the settlement plan to enable him to present conclusions to the Council before MINURSO's mandate expired on 31 May 1997. Among the questions were whether the settlement plan could be implemented in its present form and, if not, whether adjustments acceptable to the parties could be made. Another question was whether the international community could help the parties resolve their differences should the adjustments be unacceptable.

The Secretary-General observes that the United Nations could not compel the parties to honour their commitment to cooperate in implementing the settlement plan and that without such cooperation it would become increasingly difficult to justify continuing expenditure beyond 31 May. The international community, he adds, could not continue to spend its scarce resources on Western Sahara in the absence of any progress in implementing the plan that the two parties freely accepted nine years ago.

"This is a critical moment for the Mission", the Secretary-General states. "I can only hope that the parties do not fail to realize the serious implications for the future of MINURSO."

According to the report, MINURSO's costs had fallen by some 40 per cent, from about $4 million to approximately $2.6 million per month. Its military component was currently 230. The new Force Commander, Major-General Jorge Barroso de Moura (Portugal), had been exploring whether any further reduction of the military personnel could be achieved without impairing the implementation of the current mandate.

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The Secretary-General notes that the retention of MINURSO's military component at its present level was costly, since the bulk of its expenditure was directed at supporting and enabling the military observers to function in their team-sites. Furthermore, in the absence of progress towards a political solution, the presence of military observers alone would not by itself prevent hostilities. On the other hand, their withdrawal could jeopardize the cease- fire and seriously threaten regional stability.

Through the non-replacement of departing personnel and those on loan, reductions had been effected in the civilian staff, the report says. The withdrawal of the civilian police component, if accompanied by additional reductions elsewhere, would allow further cuts in civilian administration staff. The situation would be reviewed, and the Council advised accordingly, the Secretary-General observes. MINURSO's civilian police component, headed by Acting Police Commissioner Lieutenant-Colonel Jan Kleven (Norway), which numbered 91 in January 1996, had been reduced to nine.

The Secretary-General states that his Acting Special Representative, Erik Jensen, had maintained contacts with the parties. Both the Government of Morocco and Frente POLISARIO had again reiterated their commitment to the settlement plan and their wish to see it implemented. There had, however, been no change in their respective attitudes to continuing the identification process which began in August 1994 and continued for more than 18 months. The process stalled late in 1995, by which time 77,058 persons had been convoked and 60,112 identified. The figure corresponded to the number of persons estimated to have survived since 1974, when the Spanish colonial authorities conducted a census indicating that 73,497 Saharans were resident in the Territory. However, the conditions posed by the two sides for further identification were incompatible and every solution put forward is interpreted as favouring one side or the other.

The Government of Morocco maintains that all persons for whom applications were presented at the appropriate time had the right to come forward for identification, without prejudice to the decision of the Identification Commission. Further, all the groups treated as tribes and subfractions in the Spanish census of 1974 should be considered as such, since tribal leaders (sheiks) were elected for them in 1973.

The Frente POLISARIO insists that, in accordance with the compromise proposal, in addition to individuals whose names appear in the census, only members of "a Saharan subfraction included in the 1974 census" had the right to be identified and that certain groups in the census were not recognized Saharan tribes composed of authentic "subfractions". The Frente POLISARIO also insists that the lists of persons already identified and found eligible to vote should be made available, a proposal unacceptable to Morocco as not conforming to the settlement plan.

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The Secretary-General asserts that, from a technical viewpoint, it was entirely possible to resume and finish the identification process. The full programme drawn up in 1996 would have taken 32 weeks to complete. However, that would presuppose a commitment by both sides to participate in the proceedings as scheduled, on the basis of an understanding as to the persons to be identified. According to the Secretary-General, if agreement were reached to resume and complete the identification process, a certain amount of time would be required to locate and recruit the personnel needed and to re-establish and reopen the identification centres, which were partially dismantled when the Identification Commission and its staff were withdrawn.

On the issue of the release of political prisoners, the Secretary- General states that his Acting Special Representative had continued to pursue the matters raised by the Independent Jurist, Emmanuel Roucounas. On 14 January 1997, the Frente POLISARIO had provided a revised and annotated list of persons allegedly detained for political reasons in Morocco. On 16 January, the Acting Special Representative had transmitted the list officially to the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior, in accordance with the agreement reached in July 1996 with Mr. Roucounas during his visit to the region.

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For information media. Not an official record.