UN acquires envoy for Western Sahara after more than two years of fruitless searches

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday appointed a veteran of the Organization, Italian Staffan de Mistura, 74, as the new envoy for the conflict in Western Sahara, after the rejection since May 2019, date to which the post had become vacant, of a dozen candidates by Morocco or the Polisario Front.

In announcing this appointment, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric welcomed a “Positive signal” after more than two years of searching for a candidate and “13 names” proposed by the head of the United Nations to the two parties to the conflict.

Thirteenth on the list, Staffan de Mistura, rejected in May by Morocco, which recently backed down to finally accept him – under American pressure according to diplomats -, is due to take office on 1er November. He will be based in Brussels where he resides, according to the UN.

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The Polisario Front said in a statement “Impatient to dialogue” with the new emissary “On how he intends to accomplish his mission in order to allow the people of Western Sahara to exercise their legitimate and inalienable right to self-determination and independence”.

In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the appointment of the new envoy. “We will actively support his efforts to promote a peaceful and prosperous future for the people of Western Sahara and the region” and for one “Resumption of the political process”, he said, without mentioning the recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the whole of this territory granted in 2020 by former US President Donald Trump.

According to a UN official speaking on condition of anonymity, Washington has a vested interest in “Remain in ambiguity”. “It suits them. They cannot reverse Trump’s decision without altering the relationship created in exchange between Morocco and Israel. And they cannot confirm it, because it would go against the resolutions of the United Nations ”, he told AFP, estimating that “The ambiguity allows them to put pressure on Morocco”.

Minurso to renew

The Minurso peace mission in Western Sahara, the subject of a closed-door meeting of the Security Council on October 13, must be renewed on October 27, a priori for one year.

Strong of “More than forty years of experience in diplomacy and political affairs”, according to the terms of a UN press release, the new envoy succeeds former German President Horst Köhler, who resigned in May 2019 after relaunching discussions between Morocco and the Polisario, in the presence of Algeria and of Mauritania, but which had not produced any tangible results.

Speaking English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish and Arabic, Staffan de Mistura was notably during his career the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria (2014-2018) and the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations. ‘UN in Iraq (2007-2009) and Afghanistan (2010-2011).

The question of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, considered as a “Non-self-governing territory” by the UN in the absence of a final settlement, has been opposing Morocco for decades to the separatists of the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria.

Morocco, which controls nearly 80% of this vast desert territory with its rich subsoil and bordering waters full of fish, proposes an autonomy plan under its sovereignty. The Polisario, for its part, is calling for a self-determination referendum under the aegis of the United Nations which had been planned when a ceasefire was signed in September 1991, but which was never implemented.

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