Two-Month Extension of UN Mission in W. Sahara Adds to Referendum Doubts
A divided Security Council on Wednesday renewed for two months the UN mission in the Western Sahara, where a referendum on independence from Morocco looks increasingly in doubt.
Namibia voted against a resolution which raised the possibility of deciding the future of the mineral-rich territory without a ballot.
The resolution endorsed a report by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan which said that that Morocco and the Polisario Front should be "prepared to consider other ways" of reaching a settlement.
Namibia, which won its independence from South Africa in 1989 through elections organized by the United Nations, insisted on the Saharan people's "inalienable rights to self-determination and independence".
Two other council members -- Jamaica and Mali -- abstained on the vote, stating the referendum should be held as soon as possible.
The other 12 council members voted for Resolution 1301, extending until July 31 the mandate of MINURSO, the mission set up to organize the ballot after the 1991 ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario Front.
Voting has been repeatedly postponed by disagreements about who should be eligible to participate, and talks chaired by Annan's special envoy James Baker in London on May 14 ended inconclusively.
The council said it expected the two sides to offer "specific and concrete proposals" for ending the deadlock to James Baker, a former US secretary of state.
But it also said it expected them "to explore all ways and means" to resolve their dispute over voter eligibility in the former Spanish colony, which has been in Moroccan hands since 1979.
In a report on February 18, Annan warned the council that this was "a core problem which could eventually prevent the holding of the referendum".
MINURSO has identified 86,381 potential voters, but on May 22 Annan reported that another 130,000 people had appealed against exclusion from the electoral roll.
Most of them are people described by Morocco as members of indigenous tribes, but by Polisario as foreigners sent into the territory to swing the referendum Morocco's way.
Annan's report prompted Polisario to urge him to overcome his "pessimism" about holding a referendum.
In a note to Annan on March 13, the Algerian-backed independence movement said the promise of a referendum had "allowed the consolidation of the (1991) ceasefire as well as peace and security in the region."
It urged the UN to make "an ultimate effort" to hold the ballot.
The Namibian representative on the Security Council, Ambassador Martin Andjaba, emphasized that "the UN Settlement Plan remains the only viable mechanism for the durable and lasting solution of the question of Western Sahara."
MINURSO comprises 203 military observers, 80 civilian police and 27 troops, plus 272 international and 109 local civilian staff. It costs just over 52 million dollars a year -- UNITED NATIONS (AFP)
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