quinta-feira, 19 de fevereiro de 2009

Western Sahara: The UN envoy begins his first tour

The new UN envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, visited the area Wednesday in the hope of reviving discussions on the future of the territory between the Moroccan government and Polisario Front.

Mr. Ross, former U.S. ambassador in Algeria and Syria, was appointed in early January in the post, where he succeeds the Dutch Peter van Walsum. The latter, whose mandate was not renewed in late August, had been accused of unfairness in favour of Morocco after declaring that the independence of Western Sahara was "unrealistic."

UN officials have cautioned against too high expectations before the tour of Mr. Ross, explaining that it was simply for him to assess the chances of a resumption of the negotiating process of Manhasset, launched near New York in June 2007 between Morocco and the Polisario, under the auspices of the United Nations.

Four rounds of negotiations have already taken place, but without progress. A new series is planned for an unspecified date.

In Rabat, the spokesman of the Moroccan government and Minister of Communications, Khalid Naciri, assured that "Christopher Ross will meet in Morocco the same availability of spirit and good faith required by the Security Council to move the process forward negotiation."

It shall continue from the point where his predecessor left," said Naciri.

The Security Council calls for talks "without preconditions and in good faith" to reach "a just, lasting and mutually acceptable.

The Polisario representative to the UN, Ahmed Boukhari, said he stressed to Mr. Ross on the issue of self-determination.

"The people of Western Sahara to choose their future," he said.

Mr. Ross will begin his tour a week in Rabat Wednesday before travelling to Tindouf (south west of Algeria) for discussions with Secretary General of the Polisario Front, Mohamed Abdelaziz, and before a visit to Algiers, said UN spokeswoman Michele Montas in a statement.

Tindouf received for over thirty years many Sahraoui refugees.

Mr. Ross will leave Algiers on February 25 for Madrid and then Paris, the capitals of two countries of the Group of Friends of Western Sahara, which also includes Russia, Britain and the USA.

For France, considered close to the Moroccan position, the passage in Paris of the UN envoy is of great importance, "said the French ambassador in the UN, Jean Maurice Ripert.

"We believe that the Manhasset process must continue. We believe that the Moroccan proposal is interesting and we call for dialogue between the two parties," he said.

Western Sahara, former Spanish colony rich in phosphates, was annexed in 1975 by Morocco, which offers a wide autonomy under its sovereignty, rejecting any independence.

The Polisario, backed by Algeria, on the other hand requires a referendum for self-determination in which independence would be one of the options.

Both sides agreed in 1991 a cease-fire negotiated by the United Nations, but the promise of a referendum on self-determination has never been materialized.

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