8 June 2004


Press Release

Western Sahara situation generates intense afternoon debate

at pacific regional seminar on decolonization

Perspectives of Non-Governmental and Other Organizations Heard,

As Committee of 24 Prepares to Draft Seminar Conclusions and Recommendations

(Delayed in transmission; reissued as received from a UN Information Officer.)

MADANG, Papua New Guinea, 19 May -– The sensitive case of Non-Self-Governing Territory Frente POLISARIO (Western Sahara) generated intense debate during discussions at this afternoon’s fourth meeting of the Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization.

Representatives for Western Sahara and Morocco discussed United Nations resolutions regarding the power of Territories.  The Western Sahara representative referred to a 2002 report by the Legal Office of the United Nations, which did not find that Morocco was the administering Power of the Territory.  He also noted that Morocco’s statement did not mention the latest solution -– the Peace Plan of 2003 -– put forward by the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and his Personal Envoy, James A. Baker III.

Morocco replied by stating that the matter was in the hands of the Security Council.  Both representatives professed commitment to moving forward before the Chairman called the matter to rest, confirming that both parties’ statements would be taken into consideration by the Committee of 24.

Discussions moved to perspectives of the non-governmental and other organisations on the process of decolonization in the Pacific region included three statements, two of which were from Guam.

Representatives for the Colonized Chamorro Coalition and the Guam Commission on Decolonization outlined some of the challenges they faced in moving towards self-determination.  In particular, Guam’s current relationship with its administering Power, the United States, is problematic.

The Executive Director for the Guam Commission on Decolonization, Eddie Benavente, said he firmly believes that the process of self-determination in Guam would be enhanced by the administering Power’s overt support of the self-determination process.

The Chairman of the Colonized Chamorro Coalition, Rufo Lujan, cited immigration as an area of great concern, where the administering Power controls the process.

Increased militarization of Guam was also a concern expressed by Mr. Lujan.  He believes that it makes the island a prime military target for pre-emptory or retaliatory attacks.  Delegates had heard references to this topic in a presentation by Australian expert Nic Maclellan during the Seminar’s morning session.

The push for self-determination by the people of Guam is being spearheaded by non-governmental organizations, Mr. Lujan added.

In discussions that followed, pursuing an invitation from the administering Power for the United Nations to visit Guam and assess the situation there was put to the Committee of 24.

Updates on a proposed November referendum in Guam were requested by the Special Committee.  A representative from Guam noted that there was difficulty in registering voters, which could delay the referendum.

The importance of a colony’s healthy relationship with its administering Power was also raised in a statement from Sarimin Boengkih, representative for the Agence Kanak de Developpement, Noumea, New Caledonia.  In his statement, Mr. Boengkih listed his concerns over the strategies of the Territory’s administering Power, France.  In particular, immigration policies, which resulted in an influx of people with voting rights, have changed the make-up of the population in New Caledonia and, thus, the influence of the Kanak.

He referred to the Noumea Accord currently being implemented, which has created three provinces of New Caledonia, and is seen as an important step towards self-governance as the Government of France was engaged in a process of transferring the FrenchState powers to New Caledonia.  Mr. Boengkih discussed problems that might arise should France decide to call a referendum on self-determination to be organized separately in each province.

He raised concerns regarding use of natural resources, in particular mining in New Caledonia, and divisions and marginalization of indigenous populations.

The implications of military occupation in New Caledonia were also mentioned.

A representative of France, observing the Seminar, remarked that racism was a concern his Government would need to look into regarding the disparity of the New Caledonian population.

This afternoon’s meeting also included a statement by the Pacific Islands Forum, which outlined its relationship with the United Nations and its increasing involvement of Non-Self-Governing Territories in Forum activities.

Other representatives contributing to the discussion were the United Kingdom, Spain, Cuba, Argentina and Papua New Guinea.

Commenting on the days proceedings, the representative for the Congo praised the quality of work provided by experts in the morning session.  He thanked the Committee for inviting former Ambassador Donigi.  He reminded the delegates that the road before them all was still long, and there was a need to create more awareness and dispel misunderstanding amongst participants.

The representative for the Congo reiterated the importance of dialogue and contact with administering Powers.  He used American Samoa as an example of an issue where, should the United States have been present, conclusions and invitations to visit the Territory could have been arranged during the Seminar.  In that regard, he commended The United Kingdom, New Zealand and France for joining the Committee in its discussions.

He used the analogy of “to dance a tango, you must have two people” to illustrate his point on moving together, with all actors engaged, including regional and subregional organizations.  He commended Tokelau as an inspirational example.

The representative for the Congo concluded by highlighting the importance of the Special Committee and its continuing existence.

The Pacific Regional Seminar on Decolonization concludes tomorrow, with a general exchange of views on the draft report of the seminar and its conclusions and recommendations.

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For information media. Not an official record.