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Western Sahara: Annan calls for more time to allow Morocco to consider deal

21 January, 2004 United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the UN mission in Western Sahara should be extended for another three months, through the end of April, to give Morocco more time to respond to a peace plan for the disputed area.

In a report to the Security Council issued today, Mr. Annan says his Personal Envoy, James Baker, recommended that the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) be extended to allow him to consult more with Rabat.

"I concur with this view and hope that he will be receiving Morocco's final reply before the end of April 2004," Mr. Annan says.

The peace plan, submitted by Mr. Baker last year, calls for a referendum on the status of Western Sahara. It was accepted by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro, known as Frente POLISARIO, in July.

In his regular report, Mr. Annan says the recent round of confidence-building measures - telephone calls between Western Sahara and refugee camps in neighbouring Algeria resumed last week - mean the UN's refugee agency thinks an exchange of family visits could begin next month.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) submitted a detailed plan in November on how the exchange of family visits between the refugee camps in Tindouf and Western Sahara could work.

But Mr. Annan also warns that more relief aid is needed to ensure Western Saharan refugees do not succumb to acute and chronic malnutrition.

"Without significant donor contributions, the Western Saharan refugee assistance programme may face a critical situation in the coming months."



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