New UN envoy in Morocco to restart talks on disputed Western Sahara

2017-10-17 11:10
Horst Koehler (File : AFP)

Horst Koehler (File : AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Rabat - The new UN envoy for disputed Western Sahara, Horst Köhler, was visiting Morocco on Monday as part of a regional tour aimed at restarting stalled peace talks between Rabat and the pro-independence Polisario Front.

Morocco and the Polisario fought for control of Western Sahara from 1974 to 1991, when Rabat took over the desert territory before the signing of a UN-brokered ceasefire.

Morocco says Western Sahara is an integral part of the kingdom, but in 2007 proposed autonomy for the former Spanish colony, which is home to large phosphate reserves.

The Algeria-backed Polisario Front campaigns for independence and demands a referendum on self-determination for the desert territory of half a million residents.

Köhler, a former German president tasked in August by the United Nations to mediate between Morocco and the Polisario, was also set to visit Algeria and Mauritania.

On Monday, he held talks in Rabat with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, according to a diplomatic source. The talks are set to continue on Tuesday before Köhler leaves on Wednesday morning for the Tindouf region.

Tindouf is an area in southwest Algeria that is home to refugee camps where between 100 000 and 200 000 people live. Köhler is expected to meet some refugees and hold a closed-door meeting withPolisario officials, Sahrawi sources in Algiers said.

The envoy will report back to the UN Security Council on October 24 on prospects to re-starting talks between Rabat and the Polisario to resolve the decades-old conflict over Western Sahara.

The United Nations opened negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario in 2007 and there have been several rounds since, with the latest held outside of New York in 2012.

But there has been little progress since, with attempts to re-start talks on the future of the disputed territory exacerbated by tensions on the ground.

Tensions and hurdles 

In April, the United Nations said it was keen on resuming negotiations between both sides after the Polisario pulled back fighters from Guerguerat, a zone of tensions on the border with Mauritania.

The Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a new UN push for talks and extended by a year the mandate of its Minurso peacekeeping mission.

The 450-strong Minurso is comprised mostly of military observers monitoring a 1991 ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario.

The peacekeeping force - whose ties with Rabat are strained - is based in Laayoune, the main city of Western Sahara, but Köhler is not expected to visit the troops.

One of the hurdles to restarting peace talks was cleared when UN envoy Christopher Ross, a veteran American diplomat accused by Rabat of bias in favour of the Polisario, resigned in March after an eight-year stint.

The Western Sahara covers 266 000km² along the Atlantic coast.

Morocco has built six mostly sand barriers along roughly 2 700km to cordon off the part of the territory it controls.

Western Sahara is the only territory on the African continent whose post-colonial status has still not been resolved.

The dispute continues to poison relations between Morocco and Algeria, whose borders have been closed since 1994.

Read more on:    un  |  polisario front  |  western sahara  |  algeria  |  morocco  |  north africa

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.