1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 1783 (2007) of 31 October 2007, by which the Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 30 April 2008. In that resolution, the Council requested the Secretary-General to provide a report on the situation in Western Sahara before the end of the mandate period. The present report covers developments since the issuance of my report dated 19 October 2007 (S/2007/619) on the situation concerning Western Sahara and my report dated 25 January 2008 (S/2008/45) on the status and progress of the negotiations on Western Sahara.
II. Recent developments in Western Sahara
2. On 6 November 2007, in a speech to mark the thirty-second anniversary of Morocco's 'Green March' into Western Sahara, King Mohammed VI of Morocco stated that the Kingdom would spare no effort to ensure the success of the negotiations within the framework of the Kingdom's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
3. The Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente Polisario) held its twelfth congress in Tifariti, some 70 kilometres east of the berm, from 14 to 18 December 2007. The party's leadership discussed policy options, including a possible return to armed conflict. Tensions mounted in the period leading up to the congress, with Morocco objecting to the congress being held in Tifariti. In this regard, I received a letter dated 6 December 2007 from the Permanent Representative of Morocco to the United Nations (S/2007/714) and another dated 12 December 2007 from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Morocco (S/2007/731, annex), each alleging violations of the terms of the military agreements brokered in 1991.
4. On 17 February 2008, elections were organized by the Frente Polisario in the Western Saharan refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria, for a new 'Saharan parliament'. The 'parliament' held its inaugural meetings as part of the official celebrations held by the Frente Polisario in Tifariti on 27 February to mark the thirty-second anniversary of the proclamation of the 'Saharan Arab Democratic Republic'. Morocco voiced strong objections to these events taking place in Tifariti and to some construction taking place there, claiming that the Frente Polisario was breaching the terms of the military agreements by these actions. On 3 March 2008, in a meeting with the Force Commander of MINURSO, the Moroccan military threatened action by 'adequate means', including 'air strikes', to prevent further construction in the area of Tifariti. The Force Commander responded that these civilian activities were some 70 kilometres east of the berm, in the 'area of limited restrictions', where such activities were not a violation of military agreement No. 1.
5. Adding to the tension, during the period from January to March 2008, the Association Sahara Marocain (ASM), a Moroccan-based non-governmental organization, planned to organize a 'peace march' by civilians from Smara, west of the berm, to Tifariti, east of the berm. On 5 March 2008, ASM announced that the march had been postponed indefinitely.
6. From 18 February to 13 March, the Royal Moroccan Army undertook a series of pre-scheduled military training exercises in the vicinity of Awsard, involving some 1,200 troops from its infantry, cavalry and artillery units already stationed within the Awsard subsector. MINURSO had been notified of these training exercises in October 2007; they were deemed to be in accordance with the provisions of military agreement No. 1. On 13 March, I received a letter from the Secretary-General of the Frente Polisario, Mohamed Abdelaziz, protesting the apparent provocation these military exercises entailed on the eve of the fourth round of negotiations in Manhasset, New York, to be held from 16 to 18 March 2008.
7. On 22 March, a group of international non-governmental organizations organized a demonstration on the eastern side of the berm in team site Bir Lahlou's area of operation to 'express solidarity with the demands of the Saharan people'. The demonstrators assembled in Rabouni, Algeria, and later proceeded by vehicle convoy to the place of the demonstration, some 700 metres from the berm, carrying flags and banners. MINURSO observed about 1,200 people at the assembly point and subsequently, a core group of 600 to 700 at the demonstration site in front of the berm. The event was closely monitored by MINURSO by air and ground patrols on both sides of the berm, in cooperation with both parties. Bir Lahlou team site was reinforced with additional military observers from Tifariti team site and maintained close contact with the Frente Polisario. Likewise, the Mahbas team site, west of the berm, liaised with the Royal Moroccan Army. MINURSO reminded the Frente Polisario and participants in the demonstration of the potential risk of minefields east of the berm. MINURSO remained on standby to provide medical assistance, if required. During the march, the Royal Moroccan Army informed the Force Commander that its forces had been instructed to monitor the situation. The demonstration passed without incident and proved to be an example of the good on-the-ground working relationship between MINURSO and the parties.