It took note of Morocco's April 11 plan and welcomed "serious and credible Moroccan efforts to move the process forward".

  

The council took note of a rival plan by the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, which rejects the Moroccan proposal and upholds "the right of the [local] people for self-determination".

 

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Morocco has proposed a referendum on autonomy in Western Sahara that envisages giving Sahrawis "control over their affairs through legislative, executive and judicial institutions" under Moroccan sovereignty.

 

El Mostafa Sahel, Morocco's UN ambassador, said the resolution ushers in "a new process of negotiation, a new way to reach a negotiated political solution of this question".

 

 The armed group Polisario contests Rabat's
    sovereignty over Western Sahara [AFP]

Ahmed Bujari, the Polisario's UN representative, told reporters on Monday that if the people of Western Sahara opted for independence in a referendum, "we are ready to establish a strategic relationship with Morocco in terms of economical, commercial and security cooperation".

 

Zalmay Khalilzad, the new US ambassador to the UN, welcomed the fact that both Morocco and the Polisario "have agreed" to begin direct talks as requested by the council and Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general.

 

"We want negotiations to start unconditionally and I am happy that all sides have agreed to do that," Khalilzad told reporters, though he said the parties had accepted the resolution "reluctantly."

 

Negotiations

  

In a report released earlier this month, Ban said the council should call on the parties to negotiate without preconditions "with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara".

 

The resolution asked the UN secretary general to "set up negotiations under his auspices and invites member states to lend appropriate assistance to such talks".

 

It also requested Ban to provide a report by next June 30 on the status and progress of these negotiations.

  

Morocco annexed the desolate northwest African territory after the withdrawal of the region's former colonial power Spain and neighbour Mauritania in the 1970s, settling it with about 300,000 Moroccans in 1975.

 

A war ensued with the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, an armed group which contested Rabat's sovereignty, that ended in 1991 with a UN-brokered ceasefire.