2 May 2005
Security Council Extends Western Sahara Mission until 31 October, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 1598 (2005)
NEW YORK, 28 April (UN Headquarters) -- The Security Council, reaffirming its commitment to assist the parties in Western Sahara to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 31 October.
Through the unanimous adoption of resolution 1598 (2005), the Council affirmed the need for the full respect of the military agreements reached with MINURSO with regard to the ceasefire. (A series of military agreements exists between the Royal Moroccan Army and MINURSO, on the one hand, and the POLISARIO Front military forces and MINURSO, on the other.)
Also by the text, the Council called on Member States to consider voluntary contributions to fund confidence-building measures that allowed for increased contact between separated family members, especially family unification visits.
The Council looked forward to receiving the results of the comprehensive review of the structure of the Missions administrative and other civilian components, as outlined in the Secretary-Generals report (document S/2005/254). In a related term, the Council requested the Secretary-General to report on the situation before the end of the mandate period.
Morocco and the POLISARIO Front -- Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Harma and Rio de Oro -- have contested the Territory since Spain relinquished control in 1974. The MINURSO was established in 1991 to oversee the holding of a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara would choose between independence and integration with Morocco, as part of the United Nations Settlement Plan. That referendum process has been stalled for years.
The meeting began at 10:36 a.m., and was adjourned at 10:40 a.m.
The full text of resolution 1598 (2005) reads, as follows:
The Security Council,
Recalling all its previous resolutions on Western Sahara, including resolution 1495 (2003) of 31 July 2003, resolution 1541 (2004) of 29 April 2004, and resolution 1570 (2004) of 28 October 2004,
Reaffirming its commitment to assist the parties to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in the context of arrangements consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations, and noting the role and responsibilities of the parties in this respect,
Reiterating its call upon the parties and States of the region to continue to cooperate fully with the United Nations to end the current impasse and to achieve progress towards a political solution,
Urging the POLISARIO Front to release without further delay all remaining prisoners of war in compliance with international humanitarian law, and calling upon Morocco and the POLISARIO Front to continue to cooperate with the International Committee of the Red Cross to resolve the fate of persons who are unaccounted for since the beginning of the conflict,
Having considered the report of the Secretary-General of 19 April (S/2005/254), and taking note of his interim report of 27 January (S/2005/49),
1. Decides to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 31 October 2005;
2. Affirms the need for full respect of the military agreements reached with MINURSO with regard to the ceasefire;
3. Calls on Member States to consider voluntary contributions to fund Confidence Building Measures that allow for increased contact between separated family members, especially family unification visits;
4. Looks forward to receiving the results of the comprehensive review of the structure of the administrative and other civilian components of the mission, as outlined in the Secretary-Generals report of 19 April (S/2005/254);
5. Requests that the Secretary-General provide a report on the situation in the Western Sahara before the end of the mandate period;
6. Decides to remain seized of the matter.
When the Security Council met this morning to consider the situation in Western Sahara, it had before it the Secretary-Generals report (document S/2005/254) on the evolution of the situation there and on MINURSOs size and concept of operations. In view of the prevailing situation, the Secretary-General believes that MINURSO plays a vital role on the ground. He recommends the extension of its mandate for a further six months, until 31 October 2005. In terms of reducing MINURSOs size, he remains convinced that this would not be advisable at this stage.
In his report, the Secretary-General says that the recent reduction in negative rhetoric and increase in high-level contacts in the region is an encouraging development. However, the overall improved regional political climate has not yet led to movement in the positions of the parties on the question of Western Sahara and the core issue of how the people of the Territory can exercise their right of self-determination.
The Secretary-General says he remains prepared to help the parties reach a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution and regrets that such a solution remains blocked, either for reasons of substance or because existing channels for the search for common ground are not being used. The stalemate in this long-standing conflict has left tens of thousands of Saharan refugees living in deplorable conditions, relying for their survival on the generosity of the international community. It is, therefore, his sincere hope that all concerned will show the necessary political will to break the current deadlock, thus enabling the resumption of the efforts of the United Nations to assist the parties in reaching a mutually acceptable political solution.
In the meantime, the report says that both parties must refrain from inflammatory statements or taking any action, including legal, political or military, which would have the effect of further complicating the search for a solution or cause unnecessary friction. While there has not been any breach of the ceasefire that has been in effect since 6 September 1991, and there is no indication that the leadership of either party intends to initiate hostilities, the Secretary-General is concerned at the scale of the violations of military agreement No. 1. (The violations are outlined in paragraph 7 of the report).
While frustration stemming from the continuing political deadlock could be a factor in the deterioration of compliance, it does not exonerate the parties of their responsibilities, the report further states. Their fundamental commitment to the ceasefire and the military agreements must, therefore, be reinforced and reconfirmed. The Secretary-General is concerned, therefore, by the most recent reported statement by the POLISARIO leadership that a return to arms may be closer than ever. Both parties had explained to MINURSO that certain actions were needed to combat illegal migration and smuggling. This explanation may indicate the feeling of both parties that the agreements, which were concluded when these phenomenons were either non-existent or negligible, are outdated. If this is the case, there may be a need to review and adjust the agreements.
As he had informed the Security Council in his previous report, the Secretary-General says that MINURSO intends to raise this matter with the parties, taking into consideration the need to ensure that the end result of any possible review is consistent with the principle that military forces should maintain the status quo at the time of the ceasefire, and that any adjustments should be transparent and mutually acceptable.
Convinced that it would not be advisable now to reduce MINURSOs size, the Secretary-General says that, given the prevailing conditions on the ground, MINURSO should be in a position to provide an adequate response and ensure the ceasefires effective monitoring. It should, at a minimum, be maintained at its current strength and, in view of the gravity of some of the violations, consideration could be given to its strengthening. While he may revert to the Security Council on this matter, a review of MINURSOs standard operating procedures has started, in order to enhance its monitoring and verification capabilities. The Mission is also examining ways to increase its ground coverage within existing resources. Maintenance of the ceasefire regime, however, will ultimately depend on a recommitment of the parties.
With regard to the review of the civilian component, the report notes that a team from the Secretariat is expected to travel to MINURSO in May to finalize the comprehensive review undertaken of the structure of the administrative and other civilian components of the Mission. The Secretary-General, therefore, expects to be in a position to report to the Council on this matter soon.
The Secretary-General says he is concerned by the potential dangers for civilians who enter the heavily mined buffer strip and restricted areas. In this regard, illegal migrants are especially vulnerable, as are participants in civilian demonstrations. While civilians obviously have a right to demonstrate, they are evidently being organized and escorted to stage protests in the dangerous, heavily mined buffer strip, in front of the military positions at the berm. Those who encourage these demonstrations should understand the responsibility they are taking by putting civilians in these precarious circumstances. In any event, sufficient advance notification of such demonstrations should be given, including to MINURSO.
Failing this, given the considerable distance between MINURSO team sites and the areas where demonstrations take place, it will remain very difficult for United Nations observers to reach the locations of the demonstrations in a timely manner to verify allegations by either side, the report says. In any case, the participation of armed military personnel in demonstrations in the buffer strip will be in violation of military agreement No. 1. Organizers should ensure, therefore, that no weapons enter this area and that no demonstrator wears military or military-like clothing, so as to eliminate a potential source of provocation.
Further to the report, the POLISARIO Front continues to hold Moroccan prisoners of war. The Secretary-General calls on it, once again, to release all prisoners without further delay. At the same time, he appeals to Morocco, and also to the POLISARIO Front, to cooperate fully with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in accounting for those who are still missing, owing to the conflict. He is meanwhile grateful to donors who have made or pledged generous contributions to the programme on confidence-building measures, led by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and supported by MINURSO. Hopefully, family visits can resume expeditiously and it will be possible to move towards the organization of seminars involving the civil society of the Territory and the refugee community later this year.
* *** *