Secretary-General Kofi Annan has for the past year kept up the hope that the parties in Western Sahara would break the current deadlock in the peace process so that the 14-year-old United Nations mission organizing a referendum for the territory could help them reach a mutually acceptable political solution, according to a new report.
Summing up the work of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), the report requested by the General Assembly covers Mr. Annan's recommendations to the Security Council over the past year, including the Council's routine renewals of MINURSO's mandate and repeated calls on the parties and States of the region to cooperate with the UN to end the current impasse there and make headway towards a political solution.
The report picks up in October 2004, with Mr. Annan informing the Council that the goal of enabling the people of Western Sahara to exercise their right to self-determination "remains elusive," and there had been no agreement on what could be done to overcome the existing deadlock over the Peace Plan initially proposed in 2003 by his then Personal Envoy James Baker, who has since resigned.
That plan envisaged a period of transition during which there would be a division of responsibilities between Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO before the holding of a referendum for self-determination.
Western Sahara, a territory on the north-west coast of Africa bordered by Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria, was administered by Spain until 1976. Both Morocco and Mauritania affirmed their claim to the territory, a claim opposed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO).
The UN has been seeking a settlement since Spain's withdrawal and the ensuing fighting between Morocco, which had "reintegrated" the Territory, and the Frente POLISARIO, supported by Algeria. Mauritania renounced all claims to Western Sahara in 1979. MINURSO was set up in 1991 to monitor the ceasefire and to organize and conduct a referendum which would allow the people of Western Sahara to decide the Territory's future status.
Reporting the continuing deadlock in January of this year, Mr Annan said: "I remain prepared to help the parties find a solution to the current impasse." He also welcomed the continuing success of the family visits programme, which allowed refugees living in camps in south-western Algeria and residents of towns in Western Sahara to see each other, sometimes for the first time in nearly three decades.
By April of this year, Mr. Annan reported that the stalemate in the long-standing conflict had left tens of thousands of Saharan refugees living in deplorable conditions, relying for their survival on the generosity of the international community. Even though the political climate had improved, given the prevailing conditions on the ground, he argued that it would not be advisable to reduce MINURSO's size. He also repeated his willingness to help the parties reach a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution.