Two months after being appointed Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for the Sahara, Staffan de Mistura has already embarked on his first trip to the region. During this tour, which is still underway, de Mistura will meet with all the parties involved in the conflict. So far, the Italian-Swedish diplomat has already held talks in Rabat with Nasser Bourita, Morocco's Minister of Foreign Affairs, and with representatives of the Polisario Front in Tindouf. From the Saharawi refugee camps, he will move on to Mauritania and then to Algiers, where he will end his trip.
During the meeting between de Mistura and the Rabat authorities, Bourita once again defended the Moroccan autonomy proposal for the Sahara. Also present at this meeting was Omar Hilale, the Alawite ambassador to the UN. The head of Moroccan diplomacy took advantage of the dialogue with the special envoy to reiterate his support for "the resumption of the political process" under the leadership of the UN. Bourita also insisted on the need for a direct and clear dialogue between Morocco, Algeria, the Polisario Front and Mauritania supervised by the UN.
Horst Köhler, former Special Envoy for the Sahara, succeeded in bringing the actors involved to the same table in December 2018 and March 2019. However, the talks and the former German president's efforts to reach a political solution failed to reach an agreement between the parties. Moreover, both Algiers and the Polisario expressed their refusal to resume negotiations, which has paralysed the political dialogue.
After the visit to Rabat, de Mistura travelled south on board a plane provided by Spain. The diplomat landed on Saturday in the Algerian region of Tindouf to see the situation in the Sahrawi refugee camps and to meet with authorities of the Polisario Front. The diplomat was received by Sidi Mohamed Omar, Polisario Front representative at the UN and coordinator with the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).
According to Saharawi media, De Mistura visited Saharawi institutions such as the Jalil Sid Mohamed school in Boujdour camp, the National Museum of Resistance, the Digital Documentation Centre, the Saharawi Red Crescent, the Saharawi Committee for Human Rights and Smara refugee camp. Moreover, in addition to political figures, he met with youth and women's organisations. However, the Saharawi side did not have much confidence in this visit, as Mohamed Omar pointed out.
"We are going to listen to De Mistura in his first contact and then we will make our position public. We are not very hopeful because it is the first contact and obviously, as I said, he is the fifth personal envoy to visit us and now there is a different situation", he declared. The Saharawi diplomat also warned de Mistura that currently "there is no ceasefire or peace process". In this sense, Mohamed Omar announced that the position of the Polisario Front "is always to fight until the full independence of the Saharawi Republic".
De Mistura also held talks with Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front. Ghali received the diplomat in the Rabuni refugee camp, where he demanded "a just and equitable solution, capable of guaranteeing the Saharawi people their right to self-determination and full independence", according to EFE news agency. Ghali, as well as insisting on "total independence", warned that the Saharawi people "will continue their struggle" to achieve their objectives, reiterating the declarations of Mohamed Omar.
However, not all Saharawi voices agree with the Polisario's views. Hach Ahmed, first secretary of the Saharawi Movement for Peace (MSP), pointed out to de Mistura in a statement the need to return to "respecting the ceasefire".
This regional trip demonstrates Mistura's and the UN's efforts to achieve a solution to the long-standing Sahara conflict. Likewise, the decision to meet with all parties involved and listen to their views and demands also shows Mistura's commitment to resume the political process on the Sahara, stalled since the last talks organised by his predecessor in 2019.
Resuming negotiations between the parties concerned will not be an easy task for the diplomat, especially at the present time, with tensions between Morocco and Algeria high after Algiers decided to break off relations with its neighbour. The enmity between the two nations "is within De Mistura's mandate", according to UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric. For this reason, it is possible that de Mistura will hold a dialogue with the Algerian authorities on the issue, as well as urging them to reach a rapprochement with Rabat, which is essential in order to make progress on the Sahara issue.