Improved political climate has not ended Western Sahara stalemate – UN report

The overall improved political climate in Western Sahara has not ended the stalemate between the parties on the core issue of how the people of the territory can exercise their right of self-determination, Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a new report recommending a six-month extension of the United Nations mission there to maintain stability.Despite the encouraging recent reduction in negative rhetoric and increase in high-level contacts in the region, “the stalemate in this long-standing conflict has left tens of thousands of Saharan refugees living in deplorable conditions, relying for their survival on the generosity of the international community,” Mr. Annan says in a report to the Security Council.He expresses the hope that all concerned will show the political will necessary to break the current deadlock, thus enabling the UN to resume efforts to assist the parties in reaching a mutually acceptable political solution. In the meantime he urges both sides to refrain from inflammatory statements or taking actions – legal, political or military – which would complicate matters further or cause friction.While he is pleased there have been no indications that either side plans to resume hostilities, which were formally suspended when the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) began operations in September 1991, Mr. Annan is concerned by the violations of a military agreement between Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro), which, among other things, prohibits tactical reinforcements and the redeployment or movement of troops in restricted areas.Flagging a related matter, Mr. Annan expresses concern at the potential dangers for civilians who enter the heavily mined buffer strip and restricted areas. In this regard, he notes that illegal migrants are particularly vulnerable, as are civilian demonstrators. He also again calls on the POLISARIO to release all Moroccan prisoners of war without delay. He appealed to Morocco and the POLISARIO to cooperate fully with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in accounting for the missing.On the Security Council’s request that he examine the possibility of reducing the size of the Mission, Mr. Annan says that he remains convinced that this would not be advisable at this stage. Given the situation on the ground, MINURSO should be in the position to provide adequate and effective monitoring of the ceasefire, and, at a minimum, be maintained at its current strength through 31 October. read more

As southern Africa faces hungry holiday season UN agencies call for urgent

As more than 9 million southern Africans face hunger over the holiday season while much of the rest of the world feasts, United Nations agencies today pleaded for immediate donor aid to continue feeding the hungriest. The UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Zambian Government appealed for $8.5 million to provide food aid for up to 82,000 Angolan and Congolese refugees in Zambia facing a ration cut of 50 per cent as of 1 January. Overall WFP needs $77 million immediately to keep providing food aid in Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe – the countries hit hardest by the region’s weather-induced food crisis – until June 2006, when the next harvest is due. “This is certainly not our preferred course of action,” WFP Zambia Country Director David Stevenson said of the plan to halve the refugees’ rations in order to assure some level of food assistance in the months ahead.“We simply have no choice. Although we had a stable pipeline for refugees through to December this year, we have received no contributions for 2006. This is an extremely serious situation as these refugees live in camps and settlements in remote areas of Zambia and rely entirely on WFP for their food supplies,” he added. UNHCR regional representative in Zambia Ahmed Said Farah warned: “There will be increased morbidity, mortality and stunted growth. Social problems, such as prostitution and child labour, will increase and refugees may become uncontrollable as a result of the food cuts.”WFP is working to stem the impact of the ‘triple threat’ in southern Africa: the combination of extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS and the weakening capacity of governments to meet the needs of their most vulnerable citizens. Southern African countries have nine of the 10 highest HIV adult prevalence rates in the world. “The people who suffer the most when there are food shortages are the children, the sick and the elderly,” WFP Regional Director for southern Africa Mike Sackett said. Southern Africa is suffering from its fourth consecutive year of erratic weather, which means that many small children have been reliant on food aid since they were born. WFP’s three year food relief project (from January 2005 to December 2007) requires $621 million. The current shortfall is $299 million, including the $77 million needed for January to April 2006. Further to the north in Kenya, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has re-issued a $4 million emergency appeal it first made in October to aid thousands of children facing malnutrition due to deepening drought.“Given that situation can only get worse, it is imperative that all partners and the government act swiftly to protect the most vulnerable children and women,” UNICEF Kenya Representative Heimo Laakkonen said. WFP has already more than doubled its estimate of the number of people needing food aid to about 2.5 million. read more