UN envoy holds consultations on Western Sahara

Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, started his latest trip on 21 June, and has so far visited London, Paris and Madrid. He is scheduled to visit Washington and Moscow at a later date.Fighting broke out between Morocco and the Frente Polisario after the Spanish colonial administration of Western Sahara ended in 1976. Morocco has presented a plan for autonomy while the position of the Frente Polisario is that the territory’s final status should be decided in a referendum on self-determination that includes independence as an option.The purpose of Mr. Ross’ talks is to consult on the best ways to move the negotiations forward toward a mutually-acceptable settlement, as well as to solicit these nations’ advice and support.UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters that Mr. Ross’ meetings so far “have been very useful, reflecting a fresh interest in moving beyond the status quo and finding a solution.”The members of the Group of Friends that the envoy has met with to date have all expressed their willingness to work with him and the parties to ensure the success of future talks. There has also been unanimous agreement, Mr. Ross said, on the need to intensify work on confidence-building measures, including the resumption of family visits by air, the early inauguration of family visits by road and other steps proposed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).In April, the Security Council extended for another year the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission tasked with organizing a referendum on self-determination on Western Sahara.Known as MINURSO, the mission was set up in 1991 to monitor the ceasefire reached in September of that year.The Council’s resolution called on the parties to continue their dialogue under the auspices of the Secretary-General 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.” 2 July 2010The United Nations envoy dealing with Western Sahara is holding consultations in the capitals of the nations comprising the so-called Group of Friends, a diplomatic cluster working to help resolve the dispute over the territory.

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