UN envoy: No settlement in sight for W. Sahara

The special U.N. envoy for Western Sahara said Wednesday that talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front independence movement are going nowhere and he plans to move on to shuttle diplomacy to try to break the impasse in one of the world's longest-running unresolved conflicts.

Former U.S. diplomat Christopher Ross said that nine rounds of talks since August 2009 have been "without results."

"I did not yet sense a readiness to take that first step toward getting serious, so we're going to have to work on this," he told reporters after briefing the Security Council.

He warned that unrest in the region - such as the Islamist takeover of northern Mali - could spill over or inspire new problems in Western Sahara.

"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 said.

Morocco occupied and annexed the mineral-rich Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in November 1975 after Spain withdrew. The Polisario Front declared independence on behalf of the nomadic Saharawi people, and battled the Moroccan army until a U.N.-brokered 1991 truce.

The U.N. decreed that a referendum should be held on independence, but Morocco instead advanced a plan granting wide-ranging autonomy.

In May, Morocco criticized Ross for being biased and called for his replacement. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon personally called Moroccan King Mohammed VI in August to resolve the situation.

Moroccan Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki said that the U.N. chief assured the king that the talks would move forward in a new phase, as shuttle diplomacy.

Ross went to Western Sahara for meetings in early November with Polisario, and also visited Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania.

When asked about Morocco's objections, Ross said: "I was welcomed everywhere, warmly and without reservation."