Western Sahara: Secretary-General chooses British official to head UN mission

1 February 2007

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed an experienced United Nations official and former British diplomat as his new envoy to spearhead efforts to re-start the long-stalled peace process in Western Sahara.

Julian Harston, 64, becomes the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and the head of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), Mr. Ban’s spokesperson Michele Montas told journalists today.

MINURSO was established in 1991 to monitor the ceasefire between Morocco and the Frente Polisario and organize a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony which Morocco has claimed as its own and where Frente Polisario has been fighting for independence.

But in April 2004 Morocco said it could not accept a referendum that included independence as an option. Efforts to resolve the impasse between the two sides have stalled in recent years, with no direct political negotiations taking place.

Mr. Harston has been Director of the UN Office in Belgrade since May 2004, and before that he served as Director of the Asia and Middle East Division in the UN peacekeeping department and in several senior posts on missions to Timor-Leste, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Haiti.

Before joining the world body in 1995, Mr. Harston worked as a diplomat with the British Foreign Service, where he held positions in Malawi, Portugal, Zimbabwe and Geneva, among other places.