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Experienced UN official selected to lead efforts to resolve Western Sahara dispute

8 October 2009 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced today that he intends to appoint a highly experienced United Nations official as the head of the Organization’s efforts to resolve the long-running dispute over the status of Western Sahara.

Hany Abdel-Aziz of Egypt, who has 25 years of experience with the world body, will become the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Western Sahara and the head of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (known as MINURSO).

Mr. Ban said he has informed the Security Council of his plan to appoint Mr. Abdel-Aziz, who will succeed Julian Harston, now serving as Director of the UN Office in Belgrade, Serbia.

Currently the Director of Mission Support for the UN peacekeeping force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (known as MONUC), Mr. Abdel-Aziz has also worked for the UN – mostly in administrative roles – in posts in Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), Lebanon, Iraq, Burundi, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mr. Ban “is grateful both to Mr. Harston and to Major General Jingmin Zhao of China, who has been fulfilling the responsibilities of Officer-in-Charge of the Mission for the past seven months, for their dedication and tireless work in fulfilling those responsibilities,” his spokesperson said.

The conflict began when fighting broke out between Morocco and the Frente Polisario after Spain’s colonial administration of Western Sahara ended in 1976. MINURSO is tasked with monitoring the ceasefire reached in September 1991 and organizing a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara.

Morocco has presented a plan for autonomy, while the Frente Polisario’s position is that the territory’s final status should be decided in a referendum on self-determination that includes independence as an option.

The two sides have had several rounds of talks recently under the leadership of Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy.

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