Since 1991, the UN peace keeping forces have been deployed in the Western Sahara to monitor the cease-fire while MINURSO-the UN mission- pursues its efforts to organize a free and fair referendum in the Territory. The main obstacle has been the issue of the voters' list, in which Morocco seeks to include a large number of its own population, in order to win the vote. The Settlement plan approved by the Security Council had established that the electoral body for the referendum would be determined on the basis of an updated list of the Spanish census of 1974.
Although the laudable effort, which centered on identifying potential voters, has been time consuming for the UN and a drain for its finance, Morocco seems to be satisfied with an endless peacekeeping operation, without outcome, guaranteeing therefore the durability of the cease-fire, and avoiding the political settlement.
The Houston accords negotiated in 1997 between the Polisario Front and the Government of Morocco under the auspices of former US Secretary of State, Mr. James Baker, as the personal envoy of Mr. Kofi Annan have resolved major outstanding problems. In addition to the central issue of the procedures to compile the electoral body, the Houston accords have resolved the question of the confinement of the troops, the repatriation of the refugees and produced a code of conduct for the referendum.
Since then, and in contrast with the paralysis occurring in previous years, the implementation of the Settlement Plan in Western Sahara has witnessed significant progress towards the holding of the referendum. The referendum should have been organized in December 1998.
The behavior of the parties was regulated by the Houston accords, which stipulate that: "the parties agree that they will not directly or indirectly sponsor or present for identification anyone from tribal groupings H41, H61,and J51/52, other than persons included in the Spanish census of 1974 and their immediate family members." By the same token, the accords resolved the crucial question of who should be convoked and who should appear by themselves during the time of the identification of their tribe or group of tribes.
Since the resumption of the ID Commission work in December last year, some 87'238 applicants have been identified, and with the ending of the second phase a total of 147'350 persons have been processed. In line with the Houston accords, the work of the identification was completed September last. At the request of Morocco, and in accordance with the principle of transparency, the global result of acceptance of the work of the ID Commission has to be transmitted to both parties. The number of persons identified as voters is today known to the parties and to the United Nations.
Over eight months of sustained work proved that the task of the identification of voters is not mission impossible, and the results are indeed promising as to the rest of the operation of the referendum itself. This is an outstanding achievement for MINURSO, which in turn gained in credibility as a direct consequence of the implementation of the Houston accords.
Morocco, nonetheless, remains obstinate in creating unnecessary delays in the implementation of the peace process. Contrary to its promises of co-operation with the UN, Morocco has been creating since the Houston Accords various difficulties and obstructions in the identification process and in other essential aspects of the peace plan. This constitute new challenges to the authority of the United Nations in the Territory. Morocco's misbehavior has been reported widely in various UN reports.
In his April 1998 report (S/1998/316) the Secretary-general states in paragraph 31: "...I must express concern about continuing propaganda against MINURSO in the Moroccan press, which is clearly unjustifiable and must be halted". In paragraph 33 of this report the Secretary-general states that: "It is important that the United Nations de-mining activities start as soon as possible as decided by the Security Council in its resolution 1148 (1998)". The Swedish and Pakistani contingents should be, according to the Secretary-general, fully deployed in the Territory in May to prepare for the arrival of the UN troops and the returning Saharawi voters. The Secretary-general, in paragraph 10, states that: "Minurso's communication equipment has been held up for the past two months at Laayoune Airport in contadiction of the privileges and immunities traditionally granted by host countries to all United Nations peacekeeping operations".
Despite attempts by the Secretary-general as well as the UN Security Council's in obtaining Morocco's co-operation in this regard, Mr. Kofi Annan informs the council in paragraph 15 of his December 10 report (S/1998/1160) that "the unit's operational capability remained constrained by the lack of communication equipment, which the Moroccan authorities have failed so far to release from Laayoun airport". Another crucial issue which is "that the government of Morocco sign promptly the status-of-forces agreement on MINURSO" (para.29, S/1998/1160).
Morocco continues to delay any response to the formalization of the presence of the UNHCR in the Territory. In paragraph 21 of his December report, the Secretary-general said that "UNHCR continues to hope that the Moroccan government will accept the requests it and MINURSO have repeatedly made for the effective formalization of UNHCR's presence in the Territory".
Despite the fact that Western Sahara is has all along been a police-Territory, the presence of MINURSO in the Territory has not improved the situation as its activities are constrained by the Moroccan authorities. The civilian police component of MINURSO stands merely at 81 police officers, with most of its work reserved to assisting the Identification Commission, in the vicinity of the bureaus. Beyond, the UN is blinded to the many violations of human rights in Western Sahara and to arrests and arbitrary actions undertaken on daily basis by the omnipresent Moroccan police and paramilitary.
For instance, during the visit of the Secretary-general to El Aiun, Western Sahara, in November 1998, it seems that the ´Moroccans were determined to put a good show, according to the BBC the same day of the visit. In the same report, it was reported that ´most of the Western Saharans said they were too scared to speak into a mike. Many said they had already spent months being tortured inside what they said were five secret detention centers in the Territory. The Economist (14.11.98) tells a similar story: "away from the prowling eyes of Moroccan intelligence, Western Saharans murmur a different tune. They complain of discrimination in favour of the huge numbers of Moroccan settlers who have been poured in since Morocco "annexed" the territory 23 years ago. They tell of torture inside secret detention camps and doubt they will ever get a chance to vote for independence. But Mr. Annan did not hear their grievances.".
Morocco's violations of human rights does not affect the Saharawi population alone, but has inflicted great suffering on its own citizens. It is surprising that close to a hundred Moroccan former POW's, who have been liberated, in a gesture of good will by the Polisario Front, during Baker's visit in 1997, are still waiting to go home, because the Moroccan government refuses to recognize them or accept their repatriation.
At the recommendation of Mr. Baker, a new set of proposals, described as the "best means of moving forward the implementation of the Settlement Plan", has been submitted to the parties in an attempt to overcome the difficulties created in the identification of the "contested tribes".The recommendations, presented as a "package deal", seek to resume without delay the identification of those applicants from tribal groupings H41, H61 and J51/52 who wish to present themselves individually, and which, according to Moroccan Ministry of Interior, could reach 65'000. The proposals also recommended the publication of the lists of all those who were accepted by the UN as potential voters in the referendum.
Enclosed with the same document are a memorandum on UNHCR future activities, containing ways and means to guarantee a safe and confident return for the potential voters and their immediate families, a document detailing appeal procedures and timetable for the next stages of the Settlement Plan. Towards the end of October, these documents have been submitted to the Security Council for approval, which in turn, approved them in resolution S/RES/1204 1998.
All along during the recent visit of the UN Secretary-general to north west Africa, Western Sahara has been his top priority. All the countries he visited have expressed their willingness to cooperate with him. Polisario expressed its formal acceptance of the proposals. However, his meetings with the Moroccan officials have produced nothing. The Moroccan regime refused to give a positive response to the UN's proposals so far. Now the regime find itself cornered, having run out of pretexts and delaying tactics.
The latest Security Council resolution of 17 December 1998 (S/RES/1215 1998), while "welcoming the formal acceptance by the Polisario Front to implement the package of measures" it merely "notes the stated position of the Government of Morocco". However, it "urges the Government of Morocco to formalize the presence of the UNHCR in the Territory" and further urges "Morocco to promptly sign a status-of-forces agreement with the secretary-general as an indispensable condition for the full and timely deployment of MINURSO-formed military units". In the same resolution the Security Council requests the secretary-general to report to it by 22 January 1999 on the "progress in the implementation of the Settlement Plan and...as appropriate, a reassessment by the Personal Envoy of the Secretary General of the continuing viability of the mandate of MINURSO".
Morocco's war of attrition against MINURSO should cease immediately, and its frequent maneuvers aimed at undermining the many efforts undertaken by the United Nations must be opposed head-on. The referendum on self-determination is a viable solution. It could and should be organized, since it will bring about a just, peaceful and lasting solution to a question of decolonization.
The Polisario Front has fulfilled its commitments and responsibilities under the Houston Accords and will continue to co-operation in good faith for the success of the UN peace mission in Western Sahara. If Morocco persists in defiance of the Security Council resolutions it should be condemned and punished for its misbehavior. While other similar regimes are treated with a robust stance it is only justifiable to ask how could Morocco be let to get away with its challenge to the UN and the international.
It will be indeed tragic if the question of Western Sahara which has been on the agenda of the United Nations as a decolonization issue since 1963 remains unresolved by the end of this century.This will be a grim end of millennium for the Saharawi people.The Saharawis hope to celebrate the beginning of the new millennium in their own country. They deserve to celebrate it in dignity freedom and peace. It is the responsibility of the international community to help them achieve their modest dream.