UN envoy to make first trip to Western Sahara

Ross has been on several regional tours since taking over as UN envoy in 2009

UNITED NATIONS - The UN special envoy on the disputed Western Sahara will carry out his first official trip to the Moroccan-occupied territory in May, the UN said Tuesday.
The announcement of the trip by Christopher Ross, a veteran American diplomat, was made at the end of the latest informal talks between the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front rebels in the New York suburbs.
Ross "will embark, with the assistance of the parties and the neighboring states, on a regional visit starting in mid May 2012, including an extensive visit to the Western Sahara Territory," he said in a statement.
Ross has been on several regional tours since taking over as UN envoy in 2009 but never to the territory, which Morocco started to annex in 1975 when Spanish colonizers left.
The Polisario waged a guerrilla war until the UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991. Since then UN-brokered talks have failed to budge their negotiating positions and the new round also saw no progress.
Morocco says it is ready to give greater autonomy. The Polisario Front has demanded an independence referendum in line with UN resolutions.
"Each party continued to reject the proposal of the other as the sole basis for future negotiations, while reiterating their willingness to work together to reach a solution in conformity with the pertinent resolutions of the United Nations," Ross said.
"As was the case in the previous informal meetings, the discussions took place in an atmosphere of serious engagement, frankness, and mutual respect." The talks were held at the private Greentree estate on Long Island near New York.
The two sides discussed "new ideas" put forward by the UN in a bid to build trust.
The Moroccan delegation led by Foreign Minister Saad Eddine Othmani and the Polisario negotiators "deepened" discussions on demining, natural resources and environment "without prejudice to the definitive status of the territory."
The UN said the next informal meetings will take place in Europe in June, with more talks after that in July.