22 May 2003


Press Release


Discusses Situations in Falklands (Malvinas), Western Sahara,

Gibraltar; Prepares to Draft Seminar Conclusions and Recommendations

(Reissued as received from a UN Information Officer.)

THE VALLEY, ANGUILLA, 21 May -- Grappling with some of the most difficult issues on the United Nations list of remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories, the regional seminar in the Caribbean this afternoon examined the myriad sides of the situations in Gibraltar, Western Sahara, and the Falkland Islands (Malvinas).

Emphasizing the need to “get it right”, representatives around the table stressed that those situations, left unresolved, could put both the United Nations and the Security Council to the test.  Also participating in the discussion were representatives of the Frente POLISARIO (Western Sahara), Spain, Argentina and the United Kingdom.

The representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) gave his perspective on the history of the dispute, and reaffirmed the principle of the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination as the only guide for United Nations action in that regard.  After explaining the reasons why POLISARIO Front was objecting to the latest proposal put to the parties by the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General on Western Sahara, he said it wished to return to the 1991 Settlement Plan for implementation, albeit with significant concessions on its part.

(A paper of the Frente POLISARIO was circulated at the seminar containing a detailed response to the proposal presented on 16 January by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, James Baker III).

Speakers in the discussion called Western Sahara a “special case”-- a former Spanish colony until 1975, when two neighbouring countries, Mauritania and Morocco, invaded it and divided it, leaving a very difficult and ambiguous situation, especially for the people with family members in both the northern and southern parts.

The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania drew attention to the uniqueness of that case, whereby the Organization of African Unity (now, the African Union) had recognized the representatives of Western Sahara, but the parties were still struggling over the question of self-determination there.  In the small island territories of the Caribbean, the problem was ignorance about the options and implications; for Western Sahara, the option was clear, but there were profound obstacles in the way of achieving it. 

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda expressed sadness over what had happened to the Sahrawi people.  Western Sahara, he said, had existed clearly as a result of the partitioning of Africa.  Using the argument of “kith and kin” and tribal affinity would lead to a further redrawing of the lines of Africa.  Clearly, the people in Western Sahara had developed a separate identity.  For anyone to move in and claim them, seemed contrary to the principle of self-determination. 

Turning to the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), the Argentine representative said that the applicability of the principle of self-determination had been ruled out by the General Assembly because the inhabitants of that territory could not be distinguished from the colonial Power, since they were descendants of the population illegally transplanted by the United Kingdom.  That question, therefore, was a sovereignty dispute to be solved between Argentina and the United Kingdom, taking due account of the interests of the inhabitants of the territory and their way of life. 

Taking up the situation in Gibraltar, the representative of Spain said his Government was prepared, through a comprehensive agreement with the United Kingdom, to ensure that Gibraltar enjoyed the maximum possible internal self-Government to meet the interests and aspirations of that territory.  Gibraltar should benefit fully from a new era of European and regional cooperation.  Spain was committed to make possible a secure, stable and prosperous future for Gibraltar.  It was also in favour of providing Gibraltar with a modern, sustainable status, through a new understanding with the United Kingdom. 

Responding to those statements, United Kingdom’s representative first pointed out that neither the representatives of Gibraltar nor the Falkland Islands could be here today.  His position on the question of sovereignty in the Falklands Islands was well known, and he was pleased that, despite differences with Argentina on that matter, there had been practical cooperation on a range of issues.  He welcomed and shared the willingness of the Argentine Government to engage on the issues. 

To Spain, he said that, once again, the long held position of the British Government on the question of Gibraltar was well known.  The United Kingdom continued to stand by its commitment to the people of Gibraltar, whose constitution enshrined the principle of their consent to any change in sovereignty.  Acknowledging the dialogue, which had resumed with Spain in 2001, he said his country was committed to building a better future for and with the people of Gibraltar. 

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda urged representatives to follow up on an invitation from the local Government in Gibraltar to go and see for themselves what was happening there.  He was fearful about the involvement of the European Union in Gibraltar.  Those in the Caribbean who had tried to better themselves had suffered as a result.  The situation in Gibraltar was one of sovereignty, and not decolonization.

Committee Chairman Earl Stephen Huntley (Saint Lucia) said the Committee had not taken a decision on that matter.

Spain’s representative said that the European Union had supported that process, which was being carried out, for now, by Spain and the United Kingdom.  He was prepared to entertain any agreement reached.  Concerning the invitation by the Government of Gibraltar for a visit by a United Nations mission, “we are against that -- that would be interfering”, he said. 

Briefing participants on the programming modalities of one of the four field offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Caribbean, Paula Mohamed, UNDP, Barbados, recalling former high levels of resource allocation to the region from the 1970’s through the early 1990’s, said that, in response to the programming and policy reforms of the United Nations System, the Programme in Barbados had moved to a subregional programming framework. 

That framework still provided some limited access to programme resources for Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and Montserrat, she said.  The priority areas were governance, poverty reduction, and environmental sustainability, which included disaster management.  If structured to support groupings of the Non-Self-Governing Territories and their common needs, the programme context of the UNDP could provide capacity-building and institutional development assistance to them.  

Speakers in this afternoon’s discussion also included the representatives of Montserrat, Anguilla, Cuba, Côte d’Ivoire, Saint Helena, and the Cayman Islands. Experts from Bermuda, Montserrat and the Cayman Islands also spoke. 

The Regional Seminar will meet again at 9 a.m. on Thursday, 22 May to begin discussing its draft conclusions and recommendations.

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For information media. Not an official record.