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Polisario Front  Drops  Opposition to New UN Plan for Western Sahara - 2003-07-12

The independence movement of Western Sahara, the Polisario Front, has backed a new United Nations plan to resolve the decades-old dispute over the northwest African territory.

Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, the secretary-general's special envoy for Western Sahara, created the plan. It proposes that the territory, which has been the subject of a dispute between Algeria and Morocco, become a semi-autonomous part of Morocco for four to five years. Then, residents would vote by referendum for one of three options - independence, integration with Morocco, or to remain as a semi-autonomous part of Morocco.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte is circulating a draft resolution encouraging Security Council members to support the plan. He also urges the involved parties to accept it.

"They have put forward a plan for resolving the Western Sahara problem, which we think represents an excellent opportunity, an excellent chance to bring this long-standing problem to a resolution," he said.

Until the Polisario Front gave its support to the new Baker plan, the independence movement had refused to consider any modification to an earlier U.N. call for an independence referendum.

But Morocco opposes the call for any referendum on independence. Morocco seized control of the territory in 1976 after it won independence from Spain. Two years ago, Morocco began plans to explore for oil off the coast of Western Sahara.

The current president of the security council, Inocencio Arias of Spain, says that while he does not want the Security Council to impose a solution on the parties, he sees an important opportunity in the new plan.

"It's serious. I mean if the plan is implemented in a serious way, it will give good opportunity to the inhabitants of the territory to say what they want about their future," he said.

Britain and Spain are among countries that support the plan. Others in the Security Council are urging Morocco to consider the Baker proposal as a way to negotiate a settlement and end the long conflict.