United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The UN's new envoy for Western Sahara will travel to Morocco at the weekend as part of a regional tour aimed at kick-starting talks on ending the decades-old conflict over the disputed territory. Former German president Horst Kohler will travel to Rabat on Sunday before heading to Algeria and Mauritania, UN sources said. The visit comes ahead of his first report to the Security Council on October 24 on prospects for re-launching negotiations that have been comatose for years. The council adopted a resolution in April that called for a new UN push for talks between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front.
Morocco and the Polisario fought for control of Western Sahara from 1974 to 1991, with Rabat taking over the desert territory before a UN-brokered ceasefire in the former Spanish colony. Rabat considers Western Sahara an integral part of Morocco and proposes autonomy for the resource-rich territory, but the Polisario Front insists on a UN referendum on independence. One of the hurdles in the way of restarting talks was cleared when long-serving UN envoy Christopher Ross resigned in March following tensions with Morocco, which accused him of bias in favor of the Polisario.
The 74-year-old Kohler is a former International Monetary Fund chief and served as president of the European bank for reconstruction and development. The United Nations opened negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front in 2007 and there have been several rounds since, with the latest held outside of New York in 2012. There has been little progress however over resolving the future status of Western Sahara. The United Nations has a mission of 450 staff, mostly military observers, who monitor the 1991 ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario.