Baker Hammers out Settlement in Western Sahara: Independence Vote Expected within Year

Article excerpt

NEW YORK - Under former Secretary of State James A. Baker III's mediation, the parties of the seemingly intractable dispute in Western Sahara yesterday agreed to a code of conduct that will allow the former Spanish colony to hold elections within a year.

Representatives of the Moroccan government and of the Polisario Front, which since 1975 has sought full independence for the West African region, agreed on a code of conduct leading up to the referendum on the issue.

"We agreed upon pretty much everything that is necessary for us to reinstitute the process," Mr. Baker said at a hastily called news conference yesterday afternoon in Houston, where talks opened Sunday.

"I don't believe we've kicked problems down the road. We've tried to deal with the issues with which we've been confronted," he said.

Details of the code of conduct were not disclosed but involve equal access to media by both sides, freedom of the press, international election monitors and standards of behavior by officials during the campaign.

The agreement, which breaks one of the longest-running conflicts in U.N. history, was hammered out six months after Mr. Baker was appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to be his personal envoy to the region.

It marks a significant victory for the American statesman and an auspicious beginning for the James Baker International Center, which is so new it has yet to dedicate its building on the Rice University campus in Houston. …