Western Sahara
Nobel laureates appeal to UN over Western Sahara

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Nobel Peace Price winner Kofi Annan

Indirectly criticised for backing off Sahara referendum

Nobel Peace Pricer winner 2001, Kofi Annan

afrol News, 13 December - Six former Nobel Peace Prize Laureates yesterday signed an appeal to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the United Nations not to abandon the referendum plan in Western Sahara, as Mr. Annan is criticised for proposing.

The appeal states that; "The credibility of the United Nations is at stake in Western Sahara," and that; "An abandonment of the referendum plan in Western Sahara would constitute a betrayal of the inalienable right of the Saharawi people to self- determination."

The appeal was signed in Oslo, Norway, yesterday by José Ramos-Horta (1996, East Timor), Rigoberta Menchú Tum (1992, Guatemala), Oscar Arias Sánchez, (1987 Costa Rica), Adolfo Perez Esquivel (1980, Argentina), Máiread Maguire (1976, Northern Ireland) and Cora Weiss for the International Peace Bureau (1910).

Congratulating Mr. Annan on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2001, the laureates state they are "deeply concerned by the lack of progress in the implementation of the referendum of self- determination in Western Sahara."

- The UN has since 1991 been mandated to organize a free, fair and transparent referendum in Western Sahara, the laureates reminded Mr. Annan. "Despite this, recent developments indicate that the United Nations is on the verge of abandoning its earlier commitments and the signed agreements."

According to a plan presented earlier this year by Mr. Annan's Special Envoy to Western Sahara, James Baker III, the Saharawi should accept the Moroccan occupation of their territory temporarily. The plan outlines Western Sahara's future as an autonomous province within Morocco, where a referendum on independence should be held at a later stage and under Moroccan administrative influence. Mr. Annan and Morocco accepted Baker's plan, while the Sahrawi exile government protested to it.

The laureates state inderictly that this plan would be "a betrayal" of the Saharawi people. Abandoning the original referendum plan would also be "a defeat for the United Nations’ proud history of support for decolonization and respect for international legality," the laureates state.

- The credibility of the United Nations is at stake in Western Sahara, the laureates write. "We urge you to defend the integrity of the United Nations by continuing to strive for the strict implementation of the referendum as earlier agreed between the parties, as we believe that this is the only path to a durable and just peace in the Maghreb."

The laureates also express their "grave concern about the overwhelming presence of Moroccan troops and civilian settlers in occupied Western Sahara, the massive use of antipersonnel landmines, the constant harassment of Human Rights defenders, arbitrary detentions and violent suppression of dissent." They are calling for free access for independent observers and journalists and "respect for the right to freedom of speech and assembly."

Further, the laureates call the recent Moroccan contracts with US and French oil companies for the exploration for oil in occupied Western Sahara "illegal". 

They request the UN "to do anything possible to safeguard the natural resources of the territory. For the UN to stand by whilst the natural resources of Western Sahara are exploited by Morocco could be interpreted as legitimizing Morocco's occupation of the territory," the laureates' statement concludes.

Sources: Based on Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara and afrol archives.

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