Further talks on Western Sahara need 'careful preparation' – Ban

Further talks on Western Sahara need 'careful preparation' – Ban

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with his Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross
If progress is to be made on the status of Western Sahara, careful preparation is needed before further talks are held between Morocco and the Frente Polisario on the long-running dispute, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a report released today.

Mr. Ban welcomed the two parties' commitment to continue their negotiations – as stated in the final communiqué issued at the last round – but he accepted the advice of his Personal Envoy that informal meetings be held first.

The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has been in place since September 1991 to monitor the ceasefire between Morocco and the Frente Polisario, which contest the territory. In an April resolution, the Security Council called on the parties to enter into negotiations “without preconditions in good faith.”

Talks between the two parties were held under the auspices of the UN in 2007 and 2008 in Manhasset, New York, but no substantial agreements have yet emerged.

“As it would appear from the consultations held thus far that little has changed since the last round of negotiations to facilitate a positive outcome for the fifth round, careful preparation is needed,” Mr. Ban wrote in the new report.

Morocco holds that its position in Western Sahara should be recognized, while the Frente Polisario contends that the Territory's final status should be decided in a referendum that includes independence as an option.

Mr. Ban recommends that the Security Council stress again that both parties must “negotiate in good faith, without any preconditions, and show political will to enter into substantive discussions and to ensure the success of the negotiations.

“My personal envoy is available to brief the parties as well as the Security Council on his assessment of the way forward,” he adds. Christopher Ross of the United States replaced Peter van Walsum as the Secretary-General's envoy earlier this year.

Mr. Ban also voices concern about the humanitarian situation of the Western Saharan refugees, many of whom have been living in camps in the Tindouf area of neighbouring Algeria for years.

In that light, he welcomes the fact that family visits between the territory and the refugee camps have continued without interruption.

In addition, he notes recent progress made in clearing mines and explosive remnants of war in Western Sahara, as well as the decrease in reports of restrictions on MINURSO military observers.

Given the unresolved political situation, however, he advises the Security Council to extend the mandate of MINURSO for a further period of one year, until 30 April, 2010.