United Nations / AP
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is planning to hold a donorâ€™s conference before June to help tens of thousands of Sahraoui refugees from the 40-year-old dispute over the Western Sahara who are facing one of the worldâ€™s forgotten humanitarian crises.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that Ban understood the anger of the refugees living in â€œsome of the harshest conditionsâ€ in camps in Algeria for decades who feel their plight and cause has been ignored by the world.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975 and fought a local independence movement called the Polisario Front. The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991, pending a referendum over the territoryâ€™s fate that has never taken place primarily because of disputes over voter lists.
Secretary-General Ban told reporters in Algiers on Sunday that he felt â€œguiltyâ€ that his first visit to the refugee camps in Tindouf was this weekend, during his final year as UN chief. Although it was â€œtoo late,â€ Ban said he is determined to address the neglected â€œhumanitarian tragedyâ€ to ensure there is funding for life-saving assistance in the camps, and to try to find a political solution.
The secretary-general said there has been â€œno real progressâ€ in negotiations and he has asked his personal representative, Christopher Ross, to try to restart talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front.
Morocco has proposed wide-ranging autonomy for the mineral-rich Western Sahara, but the Polisario Front insists on self-determination for the local Sahraoui people through a referendum.
Dujarric said Ross informed him Monday morning that he had accepted an invitation to visit Moroccoâ€™s capital, Rabat, in late March to meet government officials. He said Ross expects to meet other parties afterward.
Ban said on Sunday that he had wanted to meet Moroccoâ€™s king on this trip but he was not available. Dujarric said talks are under way to find a date for the secretary-general to visit.
Dujarric told UN reporters in an audio briefing from Paris that the secretary-general is also concerned about the security situation in the region in light of increased criminal activities â€œand even the possibility of infiltration into the region by extremist groups.â€ He said this was among the issues Ban discussed with Algerian leaders.