After years of stalemate, the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front have agreed upon a plan to conduct a referendum on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. This breakthrough was engineered by former Secretary of State James Baker. It is an honor to have Secretary Baker here today to speak to this in his capacity as Special Envoy of the U.N. Secretary General for Western Sahara. Secretary Baker would probably protest that what he has accomplished thus far is no miracle, but the many who have suffered through the decades of conflict in this region, the ray of light he has engineered might to be miraculous.
Years of fighting between Morocco and the Polisario Front has claimed thousands of lives and created hundred of thousands of refugees. There has been a cease -fire in effect since 1991, but it took Secretary Baker's efforts to act as a true catalyst in achieving something more than just quiet tension. His diplomacy has broken the stalemate on such issues as the process of voters identification, a code of conduct during the election period, and the rapatriation of hundreds of thousands of refugees. No firm date has been set for balloting, but we appear to be closer to a free and fair referendum for Western Sahara than at any time in the last two decades.
The equitable ending of this conflict is important to the U.S. Morocco is a long standing American ally, and continued turmoil in the region is contrary to U.S. interests. Moreover, the U.S. has important relations with Algeria, the main supporter of the Polisario Front. A resolution of the Western Sahara dispute supports both Morocco and the Polisario Front, who have made the tough decision to peacefully work out their differences. The contentious issue of self-determination for Western Sahara poses a danger of instability for the region. This issue must be resolved. On the other hand, peace in Western Sahara will allow for economic development and democratization in the region.
I believe that this conflict, which has often seemed intractable, hasn't received the attention it deserves. That is now changing with Secretary Bakers's engagement, as well as with the attention the Congress is now paying to this issue. Earlier in this month, I introduced a resolution, House Resolution 245, which not only commended Secretary Baker's diplomacy, but also puts the house of Representatives on record as supporting a free and fair and transparent referendum process. It should reach the House floor next week. I would like to thank the many co-sponsors od this resolution, particularly Congressman Robert Menendez, the ranking minority member of the House Africa Subcommitte.
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