UN plans talks on Western Sahara before end of 2018


The UN envoy for Western Sahara is planning to convene talks before the end of the year between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front on ending their decades-old conflict, the Security Council president said on Wednesday. Horst Koehler, a former German president and ex-director of the International Monetary Fund, briefed the council behind closed doors on his efforts to restart talks after a 10-year break.

"There is a lot of support from the council for his approach and for his proposal to see if he can try to bring the parties together by the end of the year," said British Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Allen, whose country holds the council presidency this month. Koehler will be holding consultations with "all the parties involved" on "modalities, format and everything else," Allen told reporters after the meeting.

Morocco and the Polisario Front fought for control of Western Sahara from 1975 to 1991. Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict have been deadlocked since the last round of UN-sponsored talks in 2008.

Morocco maintains that negotiations on a settlement should focus on its proposal for autonomy for Western Sahara and rejects the Polisario's insistence on an independence referendum.

The Security Council in April approved a U.S.-drafted resolution that urged Morocco and the Polisario to prepare for talks, setting a six-month deadline for action. A council diplomat, who spoke on background, said the envoy was hoping to send invitations in September to the parties to attend talks – before the deadline expires in October.

A settlement in Western Sahara would allow the UN peacekeeping mission there, known as MINURSO, to end its mission at a time when the United States is seeking to reduce the cost of peace operations.    (AFP)

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