UN envoy for Western Sahara steps down

76-year-old Koehler quits his post over health reasons, nearly two years after he took up peacemaking mission.

Morocco credited Koehler for the efforts he has made since his nomination

UNITED NATIONS - The UN envoy for Western Sahara, Horst Koehler, has resigned from his post due to health reasons, nearly two years after he took up the peacemaking mission, the United Nations said Wednesday.

Koehler, a former German president, was appointed in August 2017 to lead UN efforts to end the decades-old conflict between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front.

The 76-year-old envoy relayed the news to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a phone call on Wednesday, a UN statement said.

Guterres "deeply regretted the resignation but said he fully understood the decision and extended his best wishes to the personal envoy," it added.

In a statement, Morocco's foreign ministry said "the kingdom of Morocco notes with regret" Koehler's resignation, while crediting him "for the efforts he has made since his nomination."

His departure leaves the UN negotiations in limbo following two rounds of talks that marked the first time in six years that the parties have come to the negotiating table.

Guterres thanked Koehler for his "steadfast and intensive efforts which laid the foundation for the new momentum in the political process on the question of Western Sahara."

The Polisario fought a war with Morocco from 1975 to 1991, when a ceasefire deal was agreed and a UN peace mission was deployed to monitor the truce.

The Polisario is demanding a referendum on independence for the territory, which Morocco has flatly rejected.

Morocco, which annexed the territory after Spain withdrew in 1975, considers Western Sahara to be an integral part of the kingdom and has instead offered autonomy.

Koehler served as German president from 2004 to 2010 and was managing director of the International Monetary Fund from 2000 to 2004.