UN chief pushes Western Sahara peace

A blueprint aimed at a silencing the guns in the 13-year Western Sahara war and deciding the Morocco-occupied territory's future was yesterday handed to the belligerents by the United Nations chief. The parties have agreed to keep details secret. But Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar disclosed that his proposal was a ``compromise'' that ``covers all aspects'' of UN resolutions on the subject. These include:

A cease-fire by the warring Moroccan Army and the Algeria-based Polisario guerrilla front. (The group's name is a Spanish acronym for The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro, the colonial name for what, until 1975, was the Spanish Sahara.)

Peace negotiations between the parties under the auspices of the UN and the Organization of African Unity (OAU), with Algeria and Mauritania as observers.

A referendum on self determination to be held under UN and OAU auspices.

Asking for responses by Sept. 1, Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar said his proposals reflected years of UN and OAU discussion with the two parties and with Algeria and Mauritania, from where the guerrillas have operated. He added that he hoped the referendum could be held this year.

The secretary-general's proposal is tailored to end a war that erupted after Spain withdrew its troops in February 1975 from what had been a Spanish protectorate since 1912. It handed over administration to Morocco as well as to Mauritania, which renounced its claim in 1979.

Meanwhile, the Polisario had launched guerrilla attacks ostensibly aimed at backing Saharan self-determination demands. Morocco, which claimed the territory on historical grounds, responded by pouring in troops and materiel. Gradually the rebels were driven out by a strategically innovative, 2,400-kilometer ``walking wall'' that Morocco built in the disputed region.

The tactic was to surround key centers with fortifications of sand and rock, clear the encircled areas of rebels, build concentric walls farther out, and repeat the mopping-up operation behind the new defense perimeters. As the barricades advanced, the insurgents were pushed out of the Western Sahara.

From their base in Tindouf, Algeria, the Polisario still occasionally stage what the Moroccans shrug off as ``nuisance raids.''

But Morocco has paid heavily for its apparent military supremacy, estimated to cost at least $1 million a day. The government admits to a death toll of 2,500 since the fighting began. There are no reliable estimates of Polisario losses.

Until recently, Morocco has been unable to translate its battlefield dominance into diplomatic success. Even before the Spanish evacuated the territory, the UN General Assembly, at King Hassan's prompting, asked the World Court's opinion on Morocco's historical claim. The court determined there were certain legal links of allegiance between the pre-colonial sultan of Morocco and some Saharan tribes.

It found no evidence, however, that ties of territorial sovereignty existed. The finding meant that the UN's decolonization declaration calling for self-determination applied to the Western Sahara.

That interpretation, long resisted by Morocco, has been accepted by the UN and the OAU.

The UN General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1975, adopted two resolutions reaffirming the region's ``inalienable right to self-determination.''

With the outbreak of the war, the texts of similar OAS and UN resolutions have been altered. The most recent UN version calls for:

Morocco and the Polisario to open direct negotiations (a proposal that King Hassan has repeatedly rejected) to bring about a cease-fire.

Creating conditions for a self-determination referendum to be held under UN and OAS auspices and without any Moroccan ``administrative or military constraints.'' In fact, the Polisario has insisted that Moroccan troops and administrators be withdrawn from the territory during the referendum - a demand Morocco has so far rejected.

Rabat suffered a major diplomatic defeat when the OAU in 1984 granted full membership as a sovereign state to the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the administrative wing of the Polisario. In protest, King Hassan pulled Morocco out of the OAU.

But since the mid-1980s, the Polisario's diplomatic position has eroded. First, Morocco formed a ``political union'' in August 1984 with Libya, until then, a principal Polisario backer. Although the union lasted scarcely a year, Libyan assistance cut off during that period was never fully resumed.

Then last May, Morocco and Algeria restored diplomatic relations. While Algiers maintains a fa,cade of solidarity with the Polisario, diplomats say it has lost its earlier enthusiasm for the rebels' cause.

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