Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (101)

Willie Penrose


233 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position on the conflict between the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic and Morocco; the position in relation to the UN referendum in the area known as the former Spanish Sahara; the position on the prisoners of both sides; if he will confirm the Government’s recognition of the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25325/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Ireland is a long-standing supporter of the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination. The Government played a prominent role in seeking a solution to the Western Sahara dispute during its term on the Security Council.

The conflict in the Western Sahara ended with the brokering by the UN in 1991 of a ceasefire which has been maintained under the monitoring of the United Nations Mission for Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO, although the conflict gave rise to numerous humanitarian issues which remain unresolved. MINURSO's efforts to carry out the referendum in the Western Sahara have been frustrated to date by the inability of the parties to agree on the list of qualified voters.

On 31 July 2003 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1495 which, in addition to extending the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, also recommended the acceptance by all sides of the Baker II plan. This plan was drawn up by Mr. James A. Baker during his term as personal envoy of the UN Secretary General and formally presented by the Secretary General to the Security Council for its endorsement on 23 May 2003. The Baker II plan proposes a transitional period of four to five years during which Western Sahara would be self-governing under Moroccan sovereignty. A Western Sahara Authority, WSA, under a chief executive would be responsible for local government, internal security, law enforcement, the economy, welfare and education, while Morocco would be responsible for foreign relations, national security and defence. At the end of five years, a referendum would be held giving residents a choice between independence, integration with Morocco or continued autonomy.

The Government believes these proposals represent the best way forward towards a negotiated settlement of the issue which fully respects the right to self-determination of the Saharaoui people. Algeria and the Polisario Front have indicated their willingness to explore these proposals, while Morocco continues to reject them. United Nations efforts to secure agreement between the parties, led by the Secretary General's special representative, continue with the strong support of the Government.

The Government position on recognition is that there is as yet no Saharan state that meets international established criteria for recognition. Such a step would in any event prejudge the outcome of the UN efforts, which, as I have noted, the Government strongly supports.

In addition to supporting efforts to secure a political settlement, the Government is concerned over the fates of the combatants in the conflict, including those who disappeared during the conflict and Moroccan prisoners-of-war still held by the Polisario. The Government firmly believes there is a compelling humanitarian case that all prisoners be released immediately and without preconditions. During the Irish Presidency of the EU this year, Polisario released 200 of the remaining prisoners of war. The Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, was present to witness the release of the second group of 100 in June. The Government will continue to press all parties to meet their humanitarian obligations without further delay.