Guterres appoints Staffan de Mistura as his personal envoy for the Sahara for the UN

The Italian-Swedish diplomat replaces the resigned Köhler
de mistura


UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Wednesday appointed Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura as his new "personal envoy" for Western Sahara, a post that had been vacant since the resignation of German Horst Köhler in 2019.

De Mistura's appointment comes after both the Moroccan and Sahrawi authorities gave their approval to the secretary general's proposal.

"The new Personal Envoy will provide good officials on behalf of the Secretary-General, work with all relevant interlocutors, including the parties, neighbouring countries and other stakeholders," Guterres' spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said today. 

Dujarric said that for the Secretary-General, Köhler's "strong and intense" efforts "laid the groundwork for a new momentum in the political process", which has been stalled for years.

The spokesman also noted that the new personal envoy "brings several decades of experience in diplomacy and political affairs".

De Mistura has already served as the secretary-general's personal envoy for the Syrian conflict, a post he held from 2014 to 2019. Previously, he had been special representative of the head of the UN for Afghanistan and Iraq and was also stationed in southern Lebanon as personal representative, among other positions within the multinational organisation.

The Moroccan government in September welcomed the appointment of the experienced diplomat, saying its acceptance stemmed from its confidence in Guterres' efforts to reach a 'political, realistic, lasting and consensual' solution to the dispute over the region. 

The UN's plan to resolve the Western Sahara conflict involves a referendum on self-determination for the Sahrawi people, which Rabat opposes outright, proposing autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty as the only alternative.

Köhler resigned from his post in May 2019 without managing to move the irreconcilable positions of Morocco and the Polisario Front on Western Sahara, not even in the two rounds of talks that the German brokered in Geneva in 2018 and 2019. In those talks, the two parties did not even sit at the same table.

At the end of those failed talks, Morocco made it clear that it did not intend to return to a hypothetical negotiating table unless the other country with interests in the area, Algeria, which hosts the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, sat at the table - and not just as an observer.