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[Published: Monday April 23 2007]

New York, (APA)-23 April 2007- Acknowledging that Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front have irreconcilable views on the future of Western Sahara, a senior United Nations envoy said talks between the parties offer a chance to break through their long-standing dispute.

The fact that the parties are willing to negotiate, even with the limitations that it entails, is going to be a window of opportunity, Peter van Walsum, the Secretary-Generals Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, told reporters in New York after briefing the Security Council, which is considering the fate of the UN mission there, known by its French acronym MINURSO.

The window of opportunity is very small. It can easily be closed in the process. It can only become smaller if the parties begin by focusing on their irreconcilable views as to the desired final arrangement, but it can also be made larger if we can encourage the parties to initially focus on the negotiating process, Mr. van Walsum said.

In his latest report on the issue, now being considered by the Security Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommends that the 15-member body call upon the parties to enter into negotiations without preconditions, with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

Describing the fundamental differences separating the sides, he said: Morocco wants Western Sahara to be an autonomous region under Moroccan sovereignty and Polisario wants Western Sahara to be an independent State.

He acknowledged that these positions are at odds. Those demands are mutually exclusive; they are irreconcilable.

Both sides have recently put forward proposals on the issue, and Mr. Van Walsum welcomed this development. I take personally a quite positive view in this matter because even if the proposals are still very far apart  I would say still irreconcilable  the interesting new phenomenon is that both parties are prepared to enter into direct negotiations with each other, under UN auspices.

The possibility of talks, he said, offers the chance for a breakthrough.

In his report to the Council, Mr. Ban also recommends a six-month extension of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which was established in 1991 to monitor the ceasefire between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front and organize the planned referendum on self-determination. It has been renewed in subsequent resolutions of the Security Council.
When, the question of the Western Sahara reached a stalemate two years ago, the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, recommanded that a political solution should be considered to put an end to the 30 years dispute.

AB/APA/23 April 2007---

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