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Western Sahara

Volume 226: debated on Wednesday 16 June 1993

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the UN concerning the preparations for a referendum on the future of Western Sahara.

We maintain regular contact with the United Nations Secretary-General through our permanent representative concerning the implementation of the UN settlement plan.

Is the Minister aware that, for a long time, the Sahrawi people have been denied the right to live peacefully on their own land? Methods employed by the Moroccan Government in attempting to impose an electorate in advance of a UN-sponsored referendum would guarantee an outcome favourable to King Hassan. Is not it time for this country and others to stand up in support of UN resolutions 658 and 690 to ensure that the Sahrawi people get a free and unfettered voice in a referendum and not one dominated by the Moroccan military? Failure to do so will lead to a reopening of hostilities, a terrible loss of life and a further blow to the prestige of the UN. Will the Government act to ensure that those people have a free voice?

We very much wish to see the referendum take place. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the UN Secretary-General has just visited Morocco and Western Sahara and we are awaiting his report which is expected in the next few weeks. We believe that he will address the resolution of some of the problems of representation in the referendum. I expect that the Government will he supporting the Secretary-General when we have read the terms of his report.

Does the Minister agree that there have at least been some tentative signs of compromise between the Polisario and the Moroccan Government? Should not we, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, encourage that and, for that reason, will the Foreign Office lift the ban on Ministers meeting the Polisario? We were late to do so in the cases of the African National Congress and the Palestine Liberation Organisation—let us not be too late again.

The way forward is to support the Secretary-General. The Polisario and the Moroccan representative will be in Vienna during the world human rights conference and will be meeting the Secretary-General. Our best contact with the Polisario is in that way rather than by ministerial contact, because we shall be supporting the Secretary-General's recommendations.

Why are the Government in favour of a referendum in Africa but not in Great Britain?

My hon. Friend knows full well that the situation in the Western Sahara is compeletely different. It involves the resolution of an ancient problem in which we wish to see the representation of people who have no Parliament.