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$600 million UN expenditure leaves two options on Western Sahara, Annan says

$600 million UN expenditure leaves two options on Western Sahara, Annan says

After 13 years of peace negotiations and $600 million in United Nations expenditure, the choices facing Morocco and Western Sahara are to end peacekeeping operations and return their problem to the General Assembly or to continue working towards implementing the UN peace plan, Secretary-General Kofi Annan says.

His report to the Security Council, presented today by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Affairs Hedi Annabi, includes a 9 April letter from the Moroccan Government rejecting the 2003 plan for peace between Morocco and the Western Saharan Frente POLISARIO (Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro).

To provide enough time for his favoured option, that both parties and the UN work towards the Peace Plan, Mr. Annan recommends extending the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 28 February 2005.

War between Morocco and Western Sahara broke out after Spain, which had ruled the territory since 1884, withdrew in 1976. In 2003 the Security Council unanimously supported the Peace Plan for Self-Determination of the People of Western Sahara as the optimum political solution to Morocco's claims to the territory.

The Plan provides for a transitional period during which Mr. Annan's Personal Envoy, James Baker, would have exclusive responsibility for a referendum, in which the people of Western Sahara would choose between independence and integration with Morocco. Provisions for a referendum became controversial because of differing claims over voter eligibility.

In his report Mr. Annan says, "It is my view and that of my Personal Envoy that the Peace Plan still constitutes the best political solution to the conflict over Western Sahara which provides for self-determination."

In its letter Morocco says under an agreement on "autonomy within the framework of Moroccan sovereignty," the Western Saharan people would manage their own local affairs but would no longer have the options of self-determination or independence.

"Clearly, this autonomy-based political solution can only be final," the letter said. "This is why the Kingdom of Morocco cannot agree to a transitional period, marked by uncertainty as to the final status of the territory."

In 2001 Mr. Baker had proposed a draft framework agreement for autonomy, it says, and Morocco had expressed its willingness then to negotiate a final settlement on that basis.