UN boss asks envoy to mediate solution to W.Sahara

Monday March 7 2016

UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon visits a primary school of Bwirangura in town of Kitchanga, 80 kilometres north of Goma on February 23, 2016. He said on March 6, 2016 he would soon call a meeting of donor nations and organisations to raise funds for refugees — around 200,000 of whom live in camps in Algeria. PHOTO | AFP

UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon visits a primary school of Bwirangura in town of Kitchanga, 80 kilometres north of Goma, DR Congo, on February 23, 2016. He said on March 6, 2016 he would soon call a meeting of donor nations and organisations to raise funds for refugees — around 200,000 of whom live in camps in Algeria. PHOTO | AFP 

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ALGIERS

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Sunday he had 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.

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 a 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.

WORSE CONDITIONS

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 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 to the conflict.

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.