UNITED Nations (UN) special envoy to Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, yesterday held talks in Laayoune, the main city in the disputed territory, with officials and members of civil groups.
Ross, on his first visit to the region since his 2009 appointment as the UN special envoy, is spending three days in Laayoune, which is controlled by Morocco but claimed by pro-independence Polisario Front.
He met members of pro-Moroccan groups as well as pro-Polisario associations. He also met the local governor and tribal leaders, the reporter said.
Today, Ross is expected to visit the cities of Tifariti and Al-Mahbas and meet members of UN peacekeeping mission, MINURSO, which monitors the ceasefire effective since 1991.However, by tomorrow, Ross will leave Laayoune and head to camps for displaced Sahrawis in Tindouf, Algeria.
Ross arrived in Laayoune on Wednesday with plans to meet representatives of pro-independence groups as well as supporters of Moroccan annexation of the region.
His arrival followed talks in Rabat on Monday with King Mohammed VI and other senior officials.
Earlier this year, Morocco demanded Ross’s replacement as envoy, accusing him of being “unbalanced and biased” in efforts to broker a solution to one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts.
In May, Rabat said it had no confidence in his offices.
But UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon refused to replace Ross, and UN officials in turn accused Morocco of seeking to undermine the work of the peacekeeping mission.
Morocco annexed the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975, in a move never recognised by the international community.
The pro-independence Polisario Front, supported by neighbouring Algeria, controls a small part of the desert interior and has bases over the border around Tindouf.
The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991, but a settlement of the conflict remains elusive.
Morocco has proposed broad autonomy for the region under its sovereignty but the Polisario rejects the plan and insists on what it says is the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination through a referendum.
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