The Moroccan government has given its approval to the appointment of Staffan de Mistura as the new UN special envoy for Western Sahara, which will allow UN Secretary-General António Guterres to announce in the coming days the appointment of the Italian-Swedish diplomat (former UN envoy in Syria) to a position that has been vacant for more than two years.
“Morocco has been consulted on this appointment and has already notified Guterres of its agreement,” declared the Moroccan ambassador to the UN, Omar Hilale. “This agreement emanates from Morocco’s permanent confidence and its constant support for the UN secretary general’s efforts to reach a political, realistic, pragmatic, lasting and compromise solution to the regional dispute over the Moroccan Sahara,” he added, speaking to the official Moroccan news agency MAP.
The post has remained vacant since May 2019, when Horst Koehler resigned for health reasons. During his tenure, the former German president managed to organize two rounds of contacts between the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front, but since he left office the situation is at a standstill. The Polisario Front itself has already shown its support for the possible appointment of Mistura since the end of April last, after his name appeared on the list of candidates.
Precisely, the Saharawi representative in Spain, Abdulah Arabi, declared last Wednesday that the appointment of the veteran diplomat could help to boost the “political process” which “has long been stalled due to the constant and permanent blockade by Morocco and the inaction of the international community, which has resulted in the inability of the United Nations Mission for Western Sahara (MINURSO) to carry out its mission”, according to the Polisario website in Spain.
The appointment of the special envoy in Western Sahara should particularly satisfy the Spanish government, which has already on several occasions conveyed to the UN Secretary General the “urgent” need to appoint a personal envoy to put an end to an “interrupted” political process. The former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arancha González Laya, repeatedly insisted that the UN should have a representative in the former Spanish colony (occupied by Morocco since 1975) to “lead” the efforts to find a solution through dialogue both with “the immediate neighbors” (Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria) and with the members of the UN Security Council and with “a group of countries, including Spain, which have close interests”.
Among the priorities included in the External Action Strategy 2021-2024, approved by the Government last April, is the “promotion of UN efforts to reach political solutions in Western Sahara”. In addition, the Executive has repeatedly urged the parties to resume the negotiating process and to move towards “a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution” in accordance with the resolutions of the UN Security Council.
At the end of 2020, several member states of the UN Security Council suggested to Antonio Guterres the possibility of appointing a Spaniard to the post and even proposed that it should go to a former Spanish president, as reported at the time by the magazine specialized in international affairs Atalayar, based on sources close to the Polisario. Diplomatic sources quoted by Europa Press assured at the same time that some of the names that Guterres was considering had been proposed by the Spanish government.