The conflict over the final status of the territory of Western Sahara has gone on for far too long and must be resolved, the United Nations envoy dealing with the issue stressed Wednesday, adding that any acceptance of the status quo a "serious miscalculation."
Christopher Ross, the UN Secretary-General's Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, told reporters at UN Headquarters that the situation remains "very worrisome" and should remain on the radar of the international community.
"While some may believe that the status quo is stable and that it is risky to take chances for peace, I believe that this is a serious miscalculation, particularly now that the region is threatened by extremist, terrorist and criminal elements operating in the Sahel," he said, following his closed-door briefing to the Security Council.
"In these new circumstances, this conflict could, if left to fester, feed growing frustration and spark renewed violence and hostilities that would be tragic for the peoples of the region," he added.
"This conflict must be resolved and I believe that it can be resolved if there is a will to engage in real dialogue and compromise."
The UN has been involved in mediation efforts to find a settlement in Western Sahara since 1976, when fighting broke out between Morocco and the movement known as Frente Polisario, after the Spanish colonial administration of the territory ended.
A UN peacekeeping force, known as the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) has also been in place since 1991.
Ross shared with the Council the findings and recommendations that emerged from his visit to North Africa from Oct 25 to Nov 11, during which he visited Morocco and the Polisario leadership, as well as neighbouring countries Algeria and Mauritania. He met with political leaders, civil society representatives and senior government authorities at each stop.
He also visited Western Sahara for the first time and met with a broad range of Sahrawis there and elsewhere, as well as held consultations in Madrid and Paris.
With regard to next steps, Ross said that he did not believe that convening another round of informal talks immediately would advance the search for a solution.
"We have had nine such rounds since August 2009 without results on the core issue of the future status of Western Sahara," he noted, adding that he intends to focus on additional consultations with key international stakeholders and then to engage in a period of "shuttle diplomacy" with the parties and neighbouring States in the context of one or more visits to the region, including to Western Sahara.
"It is my hope that these activities will lay the groundwork for effective resumption of face-to-face meetings between the parties," he said. "The parties and the neighbouring States, as well as members of the Security Council have welcomed this approach and have stated their readiness to continue to work with me in the coming months.
"I must stress that the principal responsibility for making progress rests with the parties themselves," he added. "That said, the UN will spare no effort to assist them."