In contrast to the paralysis of previous years, the peace process in Western Sahara has witnessed significant progress towards the holding of a referendum of self-determination, a referendum sought by the United Nations since the 1960s, with a view of putting and end to the successive colonial occupations of our country.
The Houston agreements, negotiated under the auspices of Mr. James Baker, by the Frente Polisario and the government of Morocco, the current occupying power, had solved the major problems which had been impeding progress in the implementation of the 1988 joint UN-OAU peace plan. Those agreements resolved very clearly the problem of the identification of the electoral body of the referendum, and this allowed MINURSO to ascertain that the total number of applicants yet to be identified as potential voters was 117 000, as stated in paragraph 30 of the Secretary-General's report to the Council (S/1997/882) of 13 November 1997.
Eight months later, after an arduous undertaking, fraught with obstacles and difficulties, the UN Secretary-General informed the Security Council, in paragraph 3 of S/1998/775, "that 115'402 applicants had been convoked since resumption of the identification process in December 1997".
At that time, there remained only 1,500 persons to be identified-- a task which was completed last September. Since the establishment of the commission of identification in the mission area, a total of 180,000 applicants have been convoked. Of these, 147,000 appeared before the commission. At the request of Morocco, the results of the work of the identification commission has been transmitted to both parties. It is, no doubt, a valuable achievement for MINURSO and a direct consequence Of the Houston accords. it is common knowledge, Mr. President, that the original peace plan approved by the Security Council in 1990-91 had established that the electoral body for the referendum would be determined on the basis of an up-dated 1974 Spanish census. With the aim of attempting to falsify the Referendum, Morocco imposed on the UN the adoption of a retroactive approach -- to go backwards in time-- to encompass Moroccan populations of alleged Saharaoui origin.
Without debating the merits of this claim, undoubtedly false, the truth is that it has been the main reason for unnecessary delays in the implementation of the peace process.The 180,000 persons convoked by the identification commission amounts to an increase of more than 125% of the 1974 Spanish census, and among them more than 100,000 applications were sent by Morocco. If the pretext was that of updating the Spanish census, any objective observer would conclude that an Increase of 125% is exaggerated and scientifically unsound. Nevertheless, the Frente Polisario cooperated with the United Nations by accepting all these applications for identification purposes. The process, according to the Houston agreements, has been concluded since the identification commisssion convoked the 117,000 applicants. Thus, the beginning of the transitional period could now be declared and, consequently, a firm date set for the referendum. New dangers, however, are latent for this prospect given Morocco's official and open exigencies that MINURSO convoke 65,000 additional citizens who belong to the Moroccan tribes classified by the Spanish census as H41 and H61.
It is not the intention of the Frente Polisario to be the sounding board of a pretext which is today used to complicate the work of the United Nations in Western Sahara. This problem was unequivocally resolved by the Houston agreements, 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". Clearly, Morocco's official demands are in violation of the Houston agreements. Morocco knows this and so does the UN. Contrary to its promises of cooperation in the implementation, Morocco has been creating innumerable difficulties and obstructions in other essential areas which are absolutely unrelated to the identification process, and are challenges to the authority of the United Nations. Time constraints do not permit me to detail these obstructions and their ulterior motives. I shall limit myself to the reports of the Secretary-General to the Security Council. In his April 1998 report (S/1998/316) the Secretary-General states in paragraph 31: "I must express concern about the 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 demining 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 Saharaoui voters. It was only in August, when the Secretary-General informed the Security Council that, " ..the problem of control and handling of the weapons, ammunitions and explosives of the MINURSO engineering support and demining units were resolved by the force commander, following intensive consultations with the Moroccan authorities". ( paragraph 8, S/1998/775 of 18 August 1998).
Despite all this, 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 contradiction 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 cooperation in this regard, Mr. Kofi Annan Informs the Council in paragraph 8 of his recent report of September (S/1998/849) that " in spite of the progress made, the operational capabilities of these formed military units are remain constrained, as their communication equipment has yet to be released by the Moroccan authorities from Laayoune airport". In paragraph 16 of the same report the Secretary-General states that, "despite assurances from the Moroccan authorities, the mission continues to be confronted with bureaucratic and procedural problems in customs clearance of much needed items and equipment, as indicated in paragraph 8 above".
Members of the committee are aware of the importance of the signature of the status-of-forces agreements for their effective deployment in the Western Sahara in order to organize the referendum on self-determination. In paragraph 19 of the Secretary-General's report S/1998/316 to the Council he states, "in preparation for the deployment of the formed engineering unit, the secretariat submitted to the Moroccan authorities on 31 March, for their approval before 30 April 1998, a complete and detailed draft status of forces agreement, as envisaged in the agreement on privileges and immunities of MINURSO that was concluded between the United Nations and the government of Morocco in an exchange of letters dated 13 December 1991 and 15 January 1992, respectively". Morocco did not reply until the month of August and its response was apparently aimed at buying time before signing the agreement. Paragraph 21 of the Secretary-General's recent report in September S/1998/849 points out that, " ... There are number of troubling problems which continue to impede progress towards holding a referendum in Western Sahara. Signature of the status-of-forces agreements Is long overdue; I welcome the decision of the governments of Algeria and Mauritania to sign the agreement, and hope that an agreement may be concluded with the government of Morocco promptly after the secretariat has completed its review of the Morocco's reply."
Finally, Mr. President, in paragraph 22 of the same report the Secretary-General states that " while I welcome with pleasure the agreement of the Moroccan authorities to normalize the presence of UNHCR, I remain concerned that they have yet to take concrete measures to allow UNHCR to carry out the necessary preparatory work for the repatriation of Saharaoui refugees and their immediate families".
Mr. President, in reading the Secretary-General's reports one can conclude that there are serious problems in the way of the referendum. They are unfortunate, if not deliberate. One can also identify who is responsible for these disquieting problems. The Frente Polisario has complied with its obligations and responsibilities under the Houston accords. The obstructions to the process towards the referendum, are a challenge to the authority of the United Nations and contradict the promises of cooperation the delegate of Morocco stated last year before this very committee. It is truth, much has been achieved since the Houston accords, but there are many obstacles remaining today and may be tomorrow.
They did not fall from the heavens; they come directly from a political will to prevent the holding of a free and fair referendum, by trying the patience of the United Nations, through what may be called a "war of attrition" against the will and the resources of the international community. The Saharaoui people's faith in the determination of the United Nations remains intact, and they look to it today more than ever, so that this anachronistic and unfair conflict may be resolved peacefully and successfully.
The so-called domestic pretexts to which Morocco resorts so frequently in order to abort the many efforts undertaken by the United Nations must not continue to overshadow the international interest and challenge the consensus achieved by the Security Council and the General Assembly through which the referendum on self-determination could and should be organized, since it is the only viable, just, and peaceful solution.
Thank you very much.