Western Sahara: new proposal aims to bring parties to the table, UN envoy says

Western Sahara: new proposal aims to bring parties to the table, UN envoy says

Secretary-General Kofi Annan's envoy for Western Sahara told the Security Council today that the new proposal contained in Mr. Annan's recent report was aimed at bringing the two sides to the table and did not mean abandoning the current settlement plan, which calls for a referendum to allow the people of the Territory to choose between independence or integration with Morocco.

"We are not asking in this proposal that anyone give up anything," James Baker III, the Secretary-General's Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, told reporters after briefing the Security Council during closed-door consultations. "We are asking that the parties are willing to come to the table and talk."

"The settlement plan will not be abandoned," Mr. Baker stressed, "but we've been trying to implement the settlement plan for 10 years now, and it would seem reasonable to try another approach if another approach is possible."

The Secretary-General's latest report on the situation in Western Sahara recommends that Morocco, the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y del Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO), Algeria and Mauritania agree to meet as parties, either directly, or through proximity talks under Mr. Baker's auspices, to discuss a proposed framework agreement on the future status of Western Sahara.

Pointing to the extremely complex nature of the dispute over Western Sahara, Mr. Baker said that the framework "offers the possibility of a solution to a very difficult and intractable problem."

"It's not going to be resolved unless the parties are willing to exercise the political will necessary to engage, under UN auspices, and work out their differences," he said.

The report also recommends that the Council extend the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) through 30 November to give time for consultations on the proposed framework

"What would really be useless, in my opinion, is for the parties to spend five months, under our auspices - and this would be a terrible waste of time - arguing over whether they were going to talk about the framework proposal or whether they were going to talk about something we've been talking about for 10 years and haven't implemented," said Mr. Baker.

"If we don't make progress on this new approach, we will have the settlement plan there which we haven't been able to implement for 10 years -- maybe we'd go back to that," he added.