quarta-feira, 25 de fevereiro de 2009

UN envoy commits to Saharawi self-determination

Associated Press (AP)
RABOUNI, Western Sahara
22. February 2009


The United Nations' new envoy to the Western Sahara on Sunday reasserted
the Saharawi people's right to self-determination, a stance that could
further complicate negotiations with Morocco, which refuses any such
solution to the long-standing conflict. Christopher Ross said his main
goal was to restart peace talks between Moroccans and the Polisario
Front to end the conflict that has dragged on since Morocco annexed the
desert territory in 1975. Negotiations must tend to "a solution that
includes the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination," Ross
said in speech he read in Arabic to the Saharawi president-in-exile and
an assembly of ministers and chiefs from the nomadic tribes that make up
Western Sahara. Talks between Morocco and the Polisario independence
movement have stalled for nearly a year since Morocco backtracked on a
U.N. plan for a referendum to determine Western Sahara's future. Morocco
wants negotiations to focus instead on its proposal for enlarged
autonomy. Ross was appointed U.N. envoy in January after his
predecessor, Peter van Walsum, angered the Polisario by calling its
demands for independence unrealistic. Ross declined to comment on when
negotiations might resume or whether Morocco's King Mohamed VI, whom he
met earlier this week, had agreed to the idea of again discussing
self-determination. He did not explicitly mention any possible timing
for a referendum, but his call for "a political solution mutually
acceptable to Morocco and the Polisario" was perceived by the Saharawis
as strong backing. "It's positive, Ross told me he'd work on reopening
negotiations without preconditions," said Mohamed Abdelaziz, the
Saharawi president-in-exile. "He could truly contribute to solving this
conflict," Abdelaziz told The Associated Press in an interview after
Ross' departure for the capital of neighboring Algeria, Algiers. Morocco
said it had no immediate comment. "We will react after having closely
examined the special envoy's statement," the country's information
minister and government spokesman, Khalid Naciri, told The Associated
Press on Sunday. Morocco wants to reopen talks with the condition that
they focus only on its autonomy plan, not a referendum. Talks have been
on and off since fighting ended in 1991. The referendum plan included in
the cease-fire deal never took place because the two sides cannot agree
on voting lists. Morocco wants to include the 100,000 settlers it
brought to Western Sahara, while the Polisario wants to count only the
original residents and the 160,000 Saharawi refugees now living in camps
near Algeria.

Associated Press Writer Hassan Alaoui contributed to this
report in Rabat, Morocco.

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