In an effort to give the parties more time to consider a United Nations proposal outlining a political solution to the situation in Western Sahara, the Security Council today extended the mandate of the UN mission responsible for organizing a referendum for the territory by two months.
The Council's unanimous decision to extend, thorough 31 May, the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), come after a letter sent by Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week requesting the 15-nation body to consider allowing more time for the parties to submit views on a proposal presented during the latest round of consultations held in the region with his Personal Envoy, James Baker III.
That proposal - "Peace Plan for self-determination for the people of Western Sahara" - provides for a political solution to the regional conflict and was circulated to Council members earlier this month.
In a statement to the press following the adoption of the resolution, Ambassador Mamady Traoré of Guinea, Council President for March, said that that while the Council members welcomed the recent release of prisoners of war (POW) by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), they recalled, however, that all prisoners of war still in detention should be released without further delay, in accordance with resolution 1429 and international humanitarian law.
Adopted last July, resolution 1429 expressed concern that the lack of progress on a solution continued to cause suffering to the people of Western Sahara and remained a source of political instability in the region. It also expressed the Council's commitment to assist the parties to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, while calling on them to cooperate with humanitarian agencies on outstanding difficulties, including the fate of missing persons and the prisoners of war.
"The members of the Security Council requested the two parties to continue to cooperate with the efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross to solve the problem of the fate of all persons who have disappeared since the beginning of the conflict," Ambassador Traoré said, adding that they also expressed their concern at the humanitarian situation of persons and populations affected by this ongoing crisis.
Morocco and the POLISARIO Front have contested the Territory since Spain relinquished control in 1974. MINURSO was established in 1991 to oversee the holding of a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara would choose between independence and integration with Morocco, as part of the UN Settlement Plan.