Monday 19 March 2018

UN envoy for Western Sahara quits

UN envoy for Western Sahara quits
(AFP (eng) 03/07/17)
Christopher Ross, the UN envoy for Western Sahara

The UN envoy for Western Sahara has offered his resignation after leading efforts for eight years to settle the conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front independence movement, a senior UN official said Monday.

Christopher Ross submitted his resignation in a letter sent last week to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who is considering whether to make a new appointment.

Ross's departure would highlight the failure of the United Nations to make progress in settling the decades-old conflict in north Africa.

"He has worked for eight years to try to come up with a framework by which the parties -- the king of Morocco and the Front Polisario -- would be able to renew negotiations," said UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman.

"He has been unable to bring the parties back to negotiations," Feltman told reporters.

"He has offered his resignation for the secretary-general to act upon when he sees fit."

Guterres, who took over from Ban Ki-moon on January 1, is considering a series of new appointments of envoys who represent him in missions worldwide.

The move came after Guterres spoke by phone earlier this month with Morocco's King Mohamed VI to ask him to pull back troops from a zone in the contested Western Sahara.

Ross, an American who served as US ambassador to Algeria and Syria, had been harshly criticized by Morocco who accused him of being biased in favor of the Polisario Front.

A former Spanish colony, Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco in 1975.

An insurgency pushing for independence ended with a UN-brokered truce in 1991 and the deployment of a UN mission, MINURSO.

Morocco maintains that Western Sahara is an integral part of its kingdom despite a UN resolution that calls for a referendum on the future of the territory.

After Ban last year used the term "occupation" to describe the status of Western Sahara, Morocco reacted with fury and expelled dozens of staff from MINURSO.

The Security Council responded by calling on Morocco to restore "full functionality" of the mission, but only a few dozen staffers were allowed to return.

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