30 October 2013

Western Sahara: UN Envoy for Western Sahara Dispute Launches 'New Phase' in Negotiations

The United Nations envoy dealing with Western Sahara today told the Security Council that he plans to return to the region in the coming weeks to pursue a new approach to ending the dispute over the territory.

Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General's Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, said he has launched a new phase in the negotiations based on discreet and separate bilateral exchanges with each of the parties - Morocco and the Frente Polisario.

This follows the envoy's visit to the region from 7 to 25 October, according to a press statement released after his closed-door briefing to the Council, which also noted that Mr. Ross would convene another round of face-to-face negotiations between the parties "only when prospects for progress at a joint meeting of the parties improve."

The 15-member Council also heard today from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber, who reported on continued efforts of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which he heads.

The Mission, created in 1991, is tasked with monitoring the ceasefire in Western Sahara and organizing a referendum on self-determination for the people of the territory.

The UN has been involved in efforts to find a settlement in Western Sahara since 1976, when fighting broke out between Morocco and the Frente Polisario after the Spanish colonial administration of the territory ended.

Mr. Weisbrod-Weber reported on MINURSO's continued efforts to monitor the ceasefire and its support for humanitarian programmes and demining activities.

He also briefed on the latest developments in Western Sahara and in the refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today began a week-long seminar in Portugal on the importance of the nomadic Sahrawi culture, including its history and its prominence in literature and music.

"These seminars, and the wider confidence-building measures, are vital elements of UNHCR's humanitarian track to link a population divided by conflict," said Athar Sultan-Khan, Chief of Staff at UNHCR.

"They complement the parallel political track under way by the United Nations towards finding a solution to this situation," Mr. Sultan-Khan added.

This seminar is part of the Confidence-Building Measures programme, initiated by UNHCR in collaboration with the two parties and the two neighbouring countries, Algeria and Mauritania.

The seminar, attended by 42 participants from the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf and from Western Sahara, is also an opportunity to temporarily reunite relatives separated over nearly four decades.

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