By Prudence Arobani
New York – UN Secretary-General António Guterres has declared support for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.
Guterres’ statement came just as the Security Council unanimously extended the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until April 30, 2018.
MINURSO was established by Security Council resolution 690 of April 29, 1991 in accordance with settlement proposals accepted on Aug. 30 1988 by Morocco and the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente POLISARIO).
Guterres welcomed the withdrawal of all Frente Polisario elements from the Guerguerat area, as confirmed by MINURSO observers on April 27 to 28.
The UN chief also noted the earlier withdrawal of Moroccan elements from the area, in response to the urging of the Secretary-General.
“This action should improve the prospects of creating an environment that will facilitate early implementation of the Secretary-General’s determination to relaunch the negotiating process with a new dynamic and a new spirit that reflect the Security Council’s guidance and resolutions.
“This is with the aim of reaching a “mutually acceptable political solution which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.
“We continue to call on the parties to adhere to their obligations under the ceasefire agreement and to respect both its letter and spirit, and to cooperate fully with MINURSO.
“The need to ensure that tensions do not erupt anew in the Guerguerat area remains vital.
“To this end, MINURSO intends to maintain the position it has held in the Buffer Strip since August 2016 and further discuss the Mission’s future monitoring of the area and the full range of issues related to the Buffer Strip with the parties.”
The Security Council, through a unanimous resolution, on Friday, reaffirmed the need for full respect of the military agreements reached with MINUSRSO with regard to the ceasefire and called on all the parties to adhere fully to those agreements.
Western Sahara is located on the north-west coast of Africa bordered by Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria.
The colonial administration of Western Sahara by Spain ended in 1976 but fighting later broke out between Morocco and the Polisario Front, and a ceasefire was signed in September 1991.
MINURSO was deployed that year to monitor the ceasefire between the Government of Morocco and the Polisario Front and organizing, if the parties agree, a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara.
A revised settlement plan was deployed by the UN after seven years of diplomatic consultations was rejected by Morocco in 2004.
In approving the current phase of direct negotiations in 2007, the UN Security Council called for “a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political settlement which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara”.
The settlement plan, as approved by the Security Council, provided for a transitional period for the preparation of a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara would choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General was to have sole and exclusive responsibility over matters relating to the referendum and was to be assisted in his tasks by MINURSO.