No sign of any progress in deadlocked Western Sahara dispute - Annan

28 January 2005

More than 13 years after they agreed to a ceasefire, the parties in Western Sahara remain deadlocked politically and there is no sign of any way to advance the stalled peace process, Secretary-General Kofi Annan tells the Security Council in his latest report on the work of the United Nations peacekeeping mission there.

Mr. Annan warns that the situation in Western Sahara, while currently relatively calm, might deteriorate if the prolonged deadlock between the Moroccan Government and the Frente POLISARIO (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro) is not broken soon.

"I remain prepared to help the parties find a solution to the current impasse," he says, adding that he is pleased there have been no indications that either side plans to resume hostilities, which were formally suspended when the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), began operations in September 1991.

Mr. Annan also welcomes the continuing success of the family visits programme, which has allowed refugees living in camps in southwestern Algeria and residents of towns in Western Sahara to see each other, sometimes for the first time in nearly three decades. He calls on donor countries to spend more to maintain the programme and other confidence-building measures.

The report states that last Saturday Frente POLISARIO announced the release of two seriously ill Moroccan prisoners of war who have since been repatriated with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). But Mr. Annan says Frente POLISARIO still holds 410 prisoners and he urges it to release them.

The report also flags the growing incidence of illegal migration in MINURSO's area of operations, although it notes that both sides have shown a willingness to cooperate to deal with the problem.

The Security Council requested the report from Mr. Annan last October after they voted then to extend the mandate of MINURSO by another six months until 30 April this year. The Council also asked the Secretary-General to examine the possibility of reducing the size of the Mission, which he states he will discuss in greater detail in his next report.


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