- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Moroccan morass

Frank Ruddy predicted six months ago that Morocco would block the United Nations from conducting a referendum on independence for Western Sahara, the North African region Morocco has occupied since 1975.

The former U.N. envoy to the area had seen it all before.

The referendum, first scheduled for 1992, was last postponed in December.

On July 14, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan admitted negotiations on rescheduling the vote had actually moved "backwards."

"I really have lost count how many times it has been postponed since 1992," Mr. Ruddy said in a speech at Georgetown University. "[In December] the referendum was postponed indefinitely."

The United Nations doesn't "dare predict any more," he added.

The deadlock is over voter registration. The United Nations has identified more than 86,000 potential voters but rejected 79,000, who are all appealing.

Morocco insists those disqualified voters are members of indigenous tribes in the region. But the Polisario Front, the former rebels of the Western Sahara, says the disputed voters are Moroccans sent to the territory to swing the referendum toward unification with Morocco.

"The United Nations has already spent a half-billion dollars on this international bauble, the stuff of secretaries-general reports and Security Council resolutions, highfalutin elegies to doing nothing," Mr. Ruddy said.

"There will be no referendum for Western Sahara until Morocco permits it. How refreshing if the United Nations would simply say that."

Mr. Ruddy, who also served as U.S. ambassador to Equatorial Guinea under President Ronald Reagan, was appointed a U.N. envoy to Western Sahara in 1994 to monitor the daily preparations for an earlier referendum, which was also canceled.

He described the Western Sahara as a "Colorado-sized prison camp," citing international human rights reports of Moroccan repression of the native Sahrawis.

The situation has not changed since Mr. Ruddy was there, even though King Mohammed VI, 36, succeeded his father, who ruled with an iron fist until his death last year.

Even former former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, named a special envoy for the Western Sahara in April, has failed to secure a referendum.

Back to Sudan?

The top U.S. diplomat in Sudan said yesterday the United States might soon restore full relations with the African nation that Washington accuses of sponsoring terrorism.

Donald Teitelbaum, the charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Khartoum, told the Sudanese parliament that President Clinton "is determined" to reappoint an ambassador.

All American diplomats were relocated to Kenya four years ago for security reasons, although the ambassador made periodic visits to the embassy, which was staffed by Sudanese employees.

The ambassador ceased the visits two years ago after the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Mr. Teitelbaum said he expects his talks with Sudanese officials will achieve "positive results for removing the problems that have arisen in the past years," according to news reports from Sudan.

Sudan is also working to reopen its embassy in Washington, which was closed after the United States bombed a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum in 1998.

Washington claimed the plant was linked to Ossama bin Laden, the Saudi dissident suspected of masterminding the embassy bombings.

Indian leader's visit

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee plans to visit Washington in September to repay President Clinton for the trip he made to India.

"Their meeting will help strengthen bilateral relations between the United States and India and follow up the president's visit to India in March," said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.

"The two leaders look forward to broadening cooperation across a wide range of common interests."

On his trip to India, Mr. Clinton urged the prime minister to sign a nuclear test-ban treaty. India exploded a nuclear bomb in 1998.

Mr. Vajpayee's national security adviser, Brajesh Mishra, was in Washington yesterday.

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