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U.N. chief urges end to deadlock over disputed Western Sahara

Polisario Front soldiers take part in a parade for the 35th anniversary celebrations of their independence movement for Western Sahara from Morocco, in Tifariti, southwestern Algeria in this February 27, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Juan Medina

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations chief on Wednesday urged Morocco and Western Sahara’s Polisario Front independence movement to end an impasse fuelling a four-decade dispute over the North African territory.

Morocco took control of most of Western Sahara in 1975 when colonial power Spain withdrew, prompting the Polisario Front to wage a guerrilla war lasting until 1991, when the United Nations brokered a ceasefire and sent in a peacekeeping force.

“My personal envoy, Mr. Christopher Ross, has intensified his efforts to facilitate the entry of the parties into negotiations without preconditions and in good faith,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement. “They have yet to do so.”

“I urge all concerned within the region and within the broader international community to take advantage of (Ross’s) intensified efforts to facilitate the launching of true negotiations in the coming months,” he added.

Morocco claims the sparsely populated stretch of desert, which has offshore fishing, phosphate reserves and oilfield potential, as its own.

However, the Algeria-backed Polisario Front seeks full independence for Western Sahara. The United Nations mission in the territory has the task of facilitating a referendum on Western Sahara’s political future.

That referendum has never taken place.

In April the U.N. Security Council renewed for another year the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara but failed to accept African Union recommendations for changes to the force’s mandate to give it the task of monitoring human rights.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau