US diplomat Ross to be named UN envoy to Western Sahara

(10.09.08 DPA [Germany])

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will shortly appoint US diplomat Christopher Ross his new personal envoy to Western Sahara, the Spanish daily El Pais reported Wednesday. The daily quoted sources close to the negotiations between Morocco, which annexed Western Sahara after the colonial power Spain pulled out of there in 1975, and the Saharawi independence movement POLISARIO Front.
Ross will succeed Dutch diplomat Peter van Walsum, whose mandate will not be renewed. Van Walsum has confirmed that he is leaving the job in an article he wrote for El Pais. Van Walsum fell out with POLISARIO, which accused him of being pro- Moroccan. The diplomat had described a 1991 UN plan for a referendum on independence as an impossible goal, because the UN Security Council was unwilling to pressure Morocco to comply with it. Van Walsum suggested that POLISARIO should consider Morocco’s proposal of an autonomy for the desert territory. The choice of Ross was seen as indicating that the US was willing to get more involved in attempts to resolve the 33-year conflict. Former Arabic professor Ross, 65, has been US ambassador to Syria and Algeria, and been involved in the Middle East peace efforts. Most recently, he has coordinated the fight against terrorism at the state department, according to El Pais.