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21 JUNE 2001


James Baker, former US secretary of state,  is expected to recommend on Tuesday that the Security Council abandon all plans to hold a free and fair referendum enabling the people of Moroccan occupied Western Sahara to decide their independence.  Baker, now Kofi Annan's Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, will press instead for the Security Council to give the Saharawis some autonomy, under a plan devised by the Moroccan Government.

According to sources close to the Western Sahara Campaign, under the proposals only Saharawis would be able to vote on an assembly and executive, to decide things like cultural affairs.  After four years, anybody who has lived in Western Sahara for a more than a year would vote on the future status of the country.  Morocco brutally occupied Western Sahara in 1975, moving in tens of thousands of settlers (Human Rights Watch, 1995) and over a hundred thousand troops to retain control of the territory.  In essence, the UN is backing a process which ensures that occupying Moroccan troops can quietly out vote the indigenous people of Western Sahara.

Richard Stanforth of the Western Sahara Campaign UK said "the move represents the personal defeat of James Baker and the abject failure of the United Nations to implement its own agreements.  Nearly half a billion US dollars of UN expenditure and ten years work by thousands of UN officials would be wasted if Morocco gets its way."  The UN peace-keepers entered the region in 1991, mandated to organise a referendum in January 1992 for the 74, 000 Saharawis who were present in Western Sahara prior to the Moroccan invasion.  Year after year, the vote was delayed as Morocco refused to allow the referendum to go ahead unless the UN included around

170, 000 Moroccan names.  This is despite the fact that they had pledged their full agreement to the UN mandate in a 1988 UN Settlement Plan. 

The Saharawis, most of whom fled the Moroccan invasion becoming refugees in the barren Algerian desert, refused to accept the Moroccan attempts to gerrymander the process.    In September 1997, Baker personally negotiated a series of agreements between Morocco and the Saharawi government in exile, the Polisario Front, to restart the referendum process.  These Houston Accords were seen as a victory for both Baker and the Polisario.  Morocco agreed not to sponsor tens of thousands of applicants with tenuous links to Western Sahara.   After interviewing 198, 000 applicants from Morocco, Western Sahara and the Saharawi refugee camps, the UN announced on 17 January 2000 a provisional list of  86,386 eligible voters.  Over hundred thousand Moroccan sponsored applicants were rejected by the UN Identification Commission.  Diplomats repeatedly informed the Campaign that this electorate would overwhelmingly vote for independence. 

In response, the UN received appeals from 131, 038 people, the majority residing in Morocco.  At the time, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan argued that it would take until 2002 to re-interview all the appealing applicants.  However, under the terms of the UN Appeals Agreements, signed by Morocco, only appellants who provided new information with their appeals applications  would be eligible for a second hearing.   Kofi Annan recognised in his reports that many of appeals only include the names and addresses of appellants but refused to implement the terms of the UN Appeals Agreements, pressing instead for the two parties to find a "political solution" which would not lead to the independence of the territory.  The Western Sahara Campaign believes that the referendum could take place within six months if the UN applied their own signed agreements.  Moreover, the time spent in the last year promoting the "political solution" could have been used successfully to re-interview all the Moroccan appellants.  

Polisario have repeatedly stated that they will go to war if the Saharawi people are not able to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence as defined by the International Court of Justice in 1975.   The Western Sahara Campaign UK calls upon the Security Council to defend the rights of the Saharawi people, as they defended the same rights of the people of East Timor.  The Campaign believes that a solution to the Western Sahara conflict can only be found if it places the wishes of the Saharawi people first. 

CONTACT: RICHARD STANFORTH , WESTERN SAHARA CAMPAIGN UK   +44 (0) 113 245 4786 / 250 8353  wsc@gn.apc.org 

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