The U.N. Security Council has given Secretary General Kofi Annan six more months to persuade Morocco to accept a peace plan for the Western Sahara. Council ambassadors indicated their patience is wearing thin as efforts to settle the long-running dispute drag on.
Secretary-General Annan had asked for a 10 month extension of the U.N. peacekeeping mandate for Western Sahara. The Security Council Thursday granted only six and told Mr. Annan to submit recommendations for cutting back the 230-strong U.N. observer force there.
Hopes for a settlement of the dispute rest mainly on a plan drafted by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker.
The Baker proposal calls on Morocco to immediately grant partial autonomy to the mineral-rich region. It would then require a referendum within five years, in which the estimated 260,000 Western Sahara residents would be asked to choose either full independence, continued partial autonomy or rejoining Morocco.
The Polisario Front rebels and their main backer, Algeria, support the Baker plan. However, the Rabat government told Mr. Baker this month it could only accept autonomy within a framework of Moroccan sovereignty.
Algeria, which currently has a seat on the Security Council, supported the six-month extension. Algeria's U.N. Ambassador Abdullah Baali told VOA he hopes the extension will give Morocco time to reconsider its objection to the Baker plan. He held out little hope for a quick resolution of the dispute.
Abdullah Baali: "We hope this time will give an opportunity to Morocco to reconsider its position and accept the peace plan."
Reporter: "Is this the last chance?"
Abdullah Baali: "We hope it will not drag on. We hope this time will be the one."
Reporter: "Is this an ultimatum that you're giving, or do you see this as just another..."
Abdullah Baali: "It's just another push."
In a report this week, Secretary General Annan told the Security Council it has two choices: either give up on a 13-year and $600 million investment in finding a peaceful solution or give negotiations another try.
Polisario rebels fought a guerrilla war with Morocco from 1976 to 1991, when the United Nations brokered a ceasefire that called for a referendum on the region's future, but efforts to stage a vote have been plagued by repeated delays.