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Parties to Western Sahara conflict conclude UN-backed informal talks in New York

7 June 2011 – Parties to the conflict in Western Sahara continued to deepen their discussions on the electoral mechanisms for self-determination during three days of United Nations-backed informal talks in New York, according to a communiqué issued at today’s end of the meeting.

By the end of the talks, however, “each party continued to reject the proposal of the other as a sole basis for future negotiations,” said the communiqué, reached after the meeting in Long Island, New York, that was convened by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross.

The UN has been involved in efforts to find a settlement in Western Sahara since 1976, when fighting broke out between Morocco and the Frente Polisario after the Spanish colonial administration of the territory ended.

Morocco has presented a plan for autonomy, while the position of the Frente Polisario is that the territory’s final status should be decided in a referendum on self-determination that includes independence as an option.

Delegations from the neighbouring states, Algeria and Mauritania, were also present at the opening and closing sessions of the seventh round of the informal talks, and during the discussion of the confidence-building measures.

“As was the case in the previous informal talks, the discussions took place in an atmosphere of serious engagement, frankness, and mutual respect,” the communiqué said.

The parties underlined the central role of the negotiating process and discussed the new ideas put forward by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his latest report on Western Sahara, which was endorsed by the Security Council.

“In order to find a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution to the Western Sahara conflict, 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, the parties continued to deepen their discussions on the two proposals, including the issue of the electoral corps and mechanisms for self-determination,” said the communiqué.

As agreed during the previous round of the talks, the parties also started a discussion on ways to tackle the agreed topics for discussion, namely natural resources and demining, and requested the assistance of the UN to propose a framework for reflection for future exchanges.

Regarding the confidence-building measure, the parties and the neighbouring States reiterated their support for the proper implementation plan of action of 2004 and the family visits by road, as well as the workshop to be organized by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Madeira, Portugal, in September.

The latest round of talks was the first since the Security Council in April extended for another year the mandate of the UN mission tasked with monitoring a ceasefire and organizing a referendum on self-determination for the people of the territory (MINURSO).

In his report, Mr. Ban said that it appeared neither party had taken steps that would suggest a readiness to move to an acceptable compromise.

He suggested that the Security Council recommend that the parties find a way to include representatives of a wide cross-section of the population of Western Sahara in the discussion of issues related to final status and the exercise of self-determination.

The parties should also deepen their examination of each other’s proposals and, in particular, seek common ground on the one major point of convergence in their two proposals, namely the need to obtain the approval of the population for any agreement, the Secretary-General recommended.

The next round of the informal talks will take place in the second half of next month at the same venue near New York City.



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