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Annan Warns End May be Near for Western Sahara Peacemaking Effort - 2004-04-27

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has warned that a 13-year peacemaking effort in the Western Sahara is near collapse. Mr. Annan asked the Security Council whether the initiative should be terminated altogether.

Secretary-General Annan said that Morocco's refusal to consider eventual sovereignty for Western Sahara is jeopardizing a U.N. peace plan for the region.

In a report to the Security Council Tuesday, Mr. Annan gave Morocco and the other parties to the Sahara dispute, Algeria and the Polisario Front, until next February to settle their differences. After that 10-month deadline, the U.N. peacekeeping mission, known as MINURSO, would be terminated.

In response, the Security Council put forward a draft resolution directing Mr. Annan to report back in six months on ways the MINURSO force could be scaled back. A vote on the draft could come as early as Wednesday.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said that the Secretary General's patience, and the world body's money, is stretched thin.

"The secretary general says he sees only two options for the Security Council to consider," he siad. "The first would be to terminate MINURSO, that's the U.N. peacekeeping mission there, and return the issue of Western Sahara to the General Assembly, acknowledging that 13 years of deployment and $600 million later, did not solve the problem, unless one or both of the parties are required to do something they would not voluntarily agree to do."

Mr. Eckhard said the second option would be to try once again to persuade all parties to accept a peace plan put forward by the secretary general's special envoy to the Sahara, former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker.

Morocco rejected that plan earlier this month. The Rabat government said it is "out of the question for Morocco to engage in negotiations with anyone over its sovereignty."

Western Sahara's fate has been uncertain since 1975, when colonial power Spain withdrew and the territory was annexed by Morocco. The Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, waged a guerilla war with Morocco for more than a decade. The MINURSO peacekeeping force has been in place since April 1991 to try to resolve the dispute.