United Nations

Press release

Report of Secretary-General S/1996/343


The Security Council had before it an 8 May report of the Secretary- General on the situation in Western Sahara (document S/1996/343) which recommends the extension of the mandate of MINURSO for six months at a reduced strength. The mandate was most recently extended until 31 May by Council resolution 1042 (1996) of 31 January.

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The Secretary-General recommends the suspension of the stalled identification process until such time as both parties -- the Government of Morocco and POLISARIO -- provide convincing evidence that they are committed to resuming and completing it without further obstacles, in accordance with the settlement plan, which was accepted by the two parties on 30 August 1988 and approved by the Council on 27 June 1990 in its resolution 658 (1990). The plan involves the holding of a free and fair referendum to enable the people of Western Sahara to choose between independence and integration with Morocco.

In the report, the Secretary-General bases his recommendation on his conclusion that, despite three years of efforts by his Acting Special Representative, Erik Jensen, as well as visits by a special envoy and by a special mission of the Council, the required willingness does not exist to give MINURSO the necessary cooperation to resume and complete the identification process of potential voters within a reasonable period of time.

As a result of the suspension of the identification process, the remaining members of the Identification Commission would leave the mission area at the end of this month, with the exception of a few required for the orderly closure of the remaining centres and the storage of the identification data -- to be transferred to the United Nations Office at Geneva for safe-keeping.

Suspension of identification would also entail the withdrawal of the civilian police component -- except for a small contingent of officers to maintain contacts with both sides -- and the reduction of the military component by 20 per cent -- from 288 to 230. The number of team sites in the field would not be reduced and neither patrolling activity nor daily contacts with both sides would be curtailed.

While proposing a reduction of both the military and police components, the Secretary-General states that his recommendations in no way imply a lessening of resolve to discharge his Council mandate, and that the United Nations should keep searching for ways to build upon the existing achievement of identifying more than 60,000 applicants. In that regard and, as part of a continuing effort to overcome the obstacles, he proposes to maintain a political office, headed by the Acting Special Representative and staffed by a small number of political officers, in Laayoune, with a liaison office in Tindour. That office will maintain a dialogue with the parties and with the two neighbouring countries (Algeria and Mauritania) in seeking a resolution of differences. In addition, he has instructed his Acting Special Representative to continue to explore confidence-building measures that might allow the resumption of contacts among all concerned.

According to the report, the POLISARIO has reaffirmed its readiness to participate in the identification of applicants who are members of subfractions included in the 1974 census, that is, subfractions for which lists of sheikhs or alternates from both parties have already been established. The POLISARIO continues to decline to cooperate in the identification of another group of applicants -- certain tribal groups which were not represented by subfraction in the 1974 census. It would agree to identify only individuals included in the census and members of their immediate family. Morocco maintains that all persons for whom applications were received on time should be presented for identification, without discrimination between tribal groups. It has agreed to resume the identification process by starting with members of non-contested groups, on the understanding that all applicants would eventually be processed.

The Security Council by its resolution 1042 (1996) of 31 January had requested the Secretary-General to report by 15 May on progress in overcoming the stalemate hindering the completion of the identification process and the consequent lack of progress towards Council had supported, in the absence of meaningful progress, the Secretary- General's intention to submit for consideration a detailed programme for a phased withdrawal of MINURSO.

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