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Western Sahara: Annan calls for speedy release of remaining prisoners

Western Sahara: Annan calls for speedy release of remaining prisoners

While the recent release of a number of Moroccan prisoners of war, as well as Saharan detainees, was a positive development, the continued detention of nearly 1,400 captives is a "serious humanitarian issue," United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a new report on the situation concerning Western Sahara.

In his interim report to the Security Council, the Secretary-General calls for the immediate release of more than 1,350 prisoners held by the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y del Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO), some for more than 20 years.

Mr. Annan also draws attention to the situation of Saharan refugees in the Tindouf camps in Algeria as a matter of "growing concern" and appeals to the international community to provide generous support to the UN's refugee and food agencies that are providing humanitarian assistance to those in need.

As for the ceasefire in the territory, the Secretary-General notes the passage without incident of the Paris-Dakar rally through Western Sahara on 3 and 4 January. "There has been no indication on the ground that either side intends to resume hostilities in the near future," he observes.

The Security Council is expected to hold consultations on Western Sahara next Tuesday. The Secretary-General will also report on the future of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) before the end of its present mandate on 28 February.