UN W. Sahara envoy to start new talks tour

UN envoy on the Western Sahara conflict, Christopher Ross, is to start a new tour next week in a bid to revive talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front, a UN spokesman said Friday.

Ross will visit the disputed territory, Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania during the tour from March 20 to April 3, said deputy UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey.

"The current conflict in Mali and the heightened risks of instability and insecurity in the Sahel and beyond make a solution to the Western Sahara conflict more urgent than ever," said Del Buey.

Morocco and the Polisario Front have held several rounds of UN-hosted informal talks on the territory, but Ross halted these last year with both sides refusing to make concessions.

Morocco started to occupy Western Sahara in 1975 after Spain's withdrawal. The UN brokered a ceasefire in the Polisario Front's guerrilla war in 1991. While the Front demands a self-determination referendum, Morocco is only prepared to allow greater autonomy for the phosphate-rich territory.