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Rep. Pitts: Don't Abandon Baker Plan

Location: Washington, DC

Rep. Pitts: Don't Abandon Baker Plan

Former Secretary of State's plan would give people of Western Sahara a say in their own future; Morocco opposed

Washington-Congressman Joe Pitts (R, PA-16), vice-chair of the House International Relations Subcommittee on International Terrorism, Non-Proliferation, and Human Rights, said the United States should reaffirm its commitment to the Baker Plan for a referendum in Western Sahara, a country in West Africa occupied by the Kingdom of Morocco. His Majesty King Mohamed VI of Morocco will visit Washington this week.

"Former Secretary of State James Baker worked long and hard on a plan to implement a referendum for the people of the Western Sahara. His plan was accepted unanimously by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1541. But the referendum hasn't happened. As we prepare to welcome His Majesty, the King of Morocco to Washington, we should reaffirm our commitment to an open and transparent referendum on the future of Western Sahara. And we would do well to oppose efforts by the Moroccan government and its powerful friends to delay this long overdue vote," said Congressman Pitts.

Over the last two years, a number of Members of Congress, including leaders on the House International Relations Committee, have expressed support for the Sahrawis and for the Baker Plan. In a letter sent to the President last month, 14 Members said:

We welcome United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 1541 adopted April 29, 2004, which reaffirmed support for the Peace Plan for Self-Determination of the People of Western Sahara devised by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy, James Baker. We deeply regret, however, the departure of Mr. Baker and the circumstances that led to his resignation.

In addition, we welcome the confidence-building measures taken by the Polisario Front which released a further 643 Moroccan POWs since July 2003; the number of POWs the Polisario has liberated since 1991 now totals 1,760.

Unfortunately, the Government of King Mohammed VI has not reciprocated in a commensurate way. The fact that the Sahrawis have opted for non-violence in the affirmation of their identity and have respected the terms of the cease-fire signed in 1991 between their representative the Polisario Front and Morocco, is telling in terms of who is committed to settlement of the conflict.

We strongly believe that the conflict between these two parties, if left unresolved, has the potential to disrupt the peace and stability in the Maghreb region, thus threatening the interests of the United States. We feel that the United States should use its unique influence in that region to press the Moroccan Government and the Polisario Front to agree to the Peace Plan and to implement it under the supervision of the United Nations. Although our attention is primarily focused, as it should be on Iraq and on the war against terrorism, we feel that the Western Sahara conflict needs to be addressed urgently and fairly to the benefit of the peoples of the region and in the interest of the United States. If so, it will provide a signal to the Broader Middle East and North African region that there are successful alternatives to violence in the pursuit of national aspirations.

In another letter, sent in 2003, Members of Congress said:

The United Nations Security Council upheld the right to self-determination during its July 2002 meeting to discuss the conflict over Western Sahara. In this meeting, the Security Council rejected other proposed options and clearly stated that the only viable resolution to this conflict must be based on the Sahrawi people's right to self-determination.

Sadly, the continued delay of this referendum has brought disunity among countries in North Africa and could cause instability in this region. In addition, the delay has caused terrible suffering for the Sahrawi refugees who have lived in refugee camps since 1975, continuing to hope for the actualization of the 1991 promise of a referendum for self-determination held by the United Nations.

A letter sent to President Bush preceding King Mohamed IV's trip to Washington in April 2002, read:

As you may know, the decision of the International Court of Justice, issued on October 16, 1975 regarding the conflict over Western Sahara, states the following, "The Court's conclusion is that the materials and information presented to it do not establish any tie of territorial sovereignty between the territory of Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco or the Mauritanian entity. Thus the Court has not found legal ties of such a nature as might affect the application of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) in the decolonization of Western Sahara, and in particular, of the principle of the self-determination through the free and genuine expression of the will of the peoples of the territory."

Unfortunately, there have been attempts to abandon the negotiated, signed settlement plans under the pretext that there allegedly is no mechanism to enforce the result of the referendum. The United Nations must uphold the agreements it brokered, otherwise its very existence is called into question.

Mr. President, as proposed in the recent past, a nebulous "alternative solution" to the carefully negotiated referendum agreements is unacceptable. With your assistance, we urge the government of Morocco to swiftly and thoroughly address the issue of the appeals process for voters in the referendum by ceasing to attempt to register unqualified people to vote in the referendum. We call on the international community to uphold investment standards that state that no country, including Morocco, should be signing contracts for oil and other resource exploration on land that is not theirs, and we urge Morocco to uphold the signed agreements so as not to bring instability to North Africa. Our world does not need further instability caused by terrorism, illegal business contracts, undermining of carefully-negotiated agreements, or by the death of innocent civilians as happened on March 20 when Moroccan forces fired upon civilian Sahrawis.

Mr. President, in this time of international cooperation in fighting the war against terrorism, it is vital that less visible issues not be forgotten. The Sahrawi people, just like the people of East Timor, desire to return to their homes and live in peace. It would be most unfortunate if the United States directly or indirectly undermined the fundamental human right of self-determination and carefully negotiated agreements about the Western Sahara by our actions. United States taxpayers have invested over $530 million into helping resolve this conflict. Unfortunately, our nation has helped undermine the referendum by our inaction on this issue. We urge you to remedy that inaction by clearly communicating to the King the necessity of holding the referendum. In addition, we respectfully request that you urge King Mohammed VI of Morocco to allow the referendum over Western Sahara to go forward immediately.

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