The two-days of informal talks over the contested terriory, where fighting broke out between Morocco and the Frente Polisario after Spain's colonial administration of Western Sahara ended in 1976, have been convened in Armonk in upstate New York.

Facilitated by the Secretary-General's Personal Envoy, Christopher Ross, the talks are held within the framework of Security Council Resolution 1871 of April last year, which welcomed the parties' agreement to hold small, informal talks in preparation for a fifth round of negotiations.

The resolution called upon the parties to continue the dialogue under the Secretary-General's auspices without preconditions to achieve 'a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.'

Morocco has presented a plan for autonomy while the Frente Polisarios position is that the territorys final status should be decided in a referendum on self-determination that includes independence as an option.

The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has been entrusted with monitoring the ceasefire reached in September 1991 and organizing a referendum on self-determination.

In a statement issued last week, the Secretary-General encouraged the parties to make further progress and urged focused and productive discussions during these informal talks.#