UN’s Ban urges mediated Western Sahara settlement

Algiers, March 6, 2016 (AFP) – UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Sunday he has asked his envoy for Western Sahara to work to relaunch talks between Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front on the disputed desert territory. The secretary general made the announcement in Algiers, the main supporter of the Polisario Front which is demanding Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco, and also voiced concern over the situation in neighbouring Libya.

He told reporters he had asked special envoy Christopher Ross to resume visits to the region in a bid to relaunch talks between Rabat and the Polisario Front and seek an end to the 40-year conflict. The United Nations has been trying to broker a Western Sahara settlement since 1991 after a ceasefire was reached to end a war that broke out when Morocco deployed its military in the former Spanish territory in 1975.

Local Sahrawi people are campaigning for the right to self-determination, but Morocco considers the territory as part of the kingdom and insists its sovereignty cannot be challenged.  Ban, who toured Burkina-Faso, Mauritania and a camp in Algeria for refugees from Western Sahara, said Morocco and the Polisario Front had failed to make “real progress” towards an “acceptable” solution. He said he would soon call a meeting of donor nations and organisations to raise funds for the refugees — around 200,000 of whom live in camps in Algeria.

On Saturday, Ban spoke of the plight of refugees as he began his visit to Algeria at Smara refugee camp near Tindouf, 1,800 kilometres (1,100 miles) west of Algiers, near the border with Morocco. “What really moved and even saddened me was the anger,” Ban told reporters after meeting with refugees and youth representatives at the camp. “Many people expressed their anger, people who for more than 40 years have lived in the harshest conditions and who feel their plight and their cause have been forgotten by the world,” he added.

On Sunday in Algiers, he said the refugees in Tindouf had been “suffering for generations”. “I spoke with youths who have lost faith in the future… I am profoundly saddened by this human tragedy. The world cannot continue to neglect the Sahrawi people,” said Ban. “We must act.”

On Saturday, the UN chief also met with the Polisario Front’s secretary general Mohamed Abdelaziz and said he would spare no effort in trying to find a political solution. Ban, while in Nouakchott on Friday, also called for Mauritania’s help in the Western Sahara dispute. During his tour, Ban voiced concern over a worsening “humanitarian crisis” in Libya, a country with rival administrations and where the Islamic State jihadist group is gaining influence on Europe’s doorstep. “We are getting alarming information from Libya concerning grave action that could constitute war crimes,” he said in Algiers on Sunday.”If there is no progress on the political level, the humanitarian crisis will worsen and security, including attacks by Daesh (IS), will spread,” he said, speaking in French.

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