A U.N. mediator who led slow-moving talks on Western Sahara and angered the territory’s independence movement with comments appearing to favor Morocco, has left his job, U.N. officials said on Thursday.
In an article published on Thursday in Spanish newspaper El Pais, Dutch diplomat Peter Van Walsum said the latest extension of his contract had expired a week ago. U.N. officials in New York confirmed he was being replaced but declined to say at whose initiative he was leaving.
Since last year, Van Walsum, 74, has supervised four rounds of talks near New York between Morocco and the Polisario Front movement over the northwest African territory, which was annexed by Morocco after Spain withdrew from its former colony in 1975.
The talks have failed to break a deadlock over whether the resource-rich Sahara should be an autonomous region of Morocco, as Rabat proposes, or have a referendum of its people to decide whether or not it should be independent, as Polisario wants.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has complained that the two sides are not negotiating, merely restating their starting positions.
Van Walsum, who took on his job three years ago, infuriated Polisario in April by saying in an assessment to the U.N. Security Council that he had concluded “that an independent Western Sahara was not a realistic proposition.”