Western Sahara: doubtful about current plan, Annan urges talks on new framework

Western Sahara: doubtful about current plan, Annan urges talks on new framework

Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Voicing doubts about the possibility of implementing the current settlement plan for Western Sahara - which calls for a referendum to allow the people of the Territory to choose between independence or integration with Morocco - United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today urged talks on a new framework accord for resolving the dispute.

In a new report to the Security Council, which in April 1991 set up the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), Mr. Annan recalls that it was understood at the time that during the implementation process, there would have to be direct talks between the parties to achieve the compromises necessary for carrying out the plan. However, because of the parties' unwillingness to work together, the UN started submitting proposals, which the parties would proceed to revise and dilute.

This process, the Secretary-General says, became a "zero-sum game" that each side felt it absolutely had to win, since, "due to the nature of the agreement that the United Nations was trying to implement, the referendum would produce one winner and one loser and the states were therefore too high."

Noting that over the years the UN pursued efforts to convince the parties to cooperate in the process, Mr. Annan points out that perhaps the Organization "erred on the side of unfounded optimism and persisted in its efforts longer than it should have."

Mr. Annan concurs with the conclusion of his Personal Envoy, former United States Secretary of State James Baker III, that "there are serious doubts as to whether the settlement plan can be implemented in its present form in a way that will result in an early, durable and agreed resolution of the dispute over Western Sahara." He is equally doubtful as to "whether any other adjustments to the settlement plan would resolve [long-term] problems, since the endgame would still produce one winner and one loser."

Under these conditions, the Secretary-General expresses hope that Morocco, the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y del Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO), Algeria and Mauritania will agree to meet under the auspices of his Personal Envoy to discuss the proposed Framework Agreement on the future status of Western Sahara, which, he stresses, "does not foreclose self-determination, but indeed provides for it."

That framework would confer on the population of Western Sahara the right to elect their own executive and legislative bodies and to have exclusive competence over "local governmental administration, territorial budget and taxation, law enforcement, internal security, social welfare, culture, education, commerce, transportation, agriculture, mining, fisheries and industry, environmental policy, housing and urban development, water and electricity, roads and other basic infrastructure." Within five years, a referendum on the final status of the Territory would be held.

During negotiations, "the settlement plan will not be abandoned but will be put on hold," writes Mr. Annan. He recommends that the Council extend MINURSO's mandate through 30 November to give time for consultations on the proposed framework, which, he says, "offers what may be the last window of opportunity for years to come."