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Staffan de Mistura monitors the situation on the ground in the Tindouf refugee camps

The UN envoy for Western Sahara arrived on Saturday in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algerian territory
Staffan de Mistura, United Nations (UN) Special Envoy for Western Sahara

AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI  -   Staffan de Mistura, United Nations (UN) Special Envoy for Western Sahara

Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations (UN) envoy for Western Sahara, arrived in the Sahrawi refugee camps of Tindouf in Algeria to personally monitor the situation in the area and to meet with leaders of the Polisario Front and Algerian authorities. 

After having visited Morocco and after his meeting in the North African country with Nasser Bourita, the Kingdom's Minister of Foreign Affairs, to discuss the Western Sahara conflict with the Moroccan side, Staffan de Mistura continued his tour to Algeria to check the arguments of the other opposing side. 

The Western Sahara issue has for decades pitted Morocco against the Polisario Front, which is strongly supported by Algeria, the Alawite kingdom's political rival in the Maghreb. And the UN continues to try to mediate effectively in order to reach an understanding between the opposing sides. 

Nasser Bourita explained to Staffan de Mistura Morocco's clear position on the issue, which is to establish a clear dialogue between the Kingdom, the UN, the Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania, as the parties involved in the matter. 

El enviado especial de la ONU para el Sáhara Occidental, Staffan de Mistura, se reunió con el ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Marruecos, Nasser Bourita
PHOTO/SOCIAL NETWORKS - The UN Special Envoy for Western Sahara, Staffan de Mistura, met with the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Bourita.

The Sahara region has been under pre-war tension since a year ago when Moroccan troops entered the Guerguerat Pass, a demilitarised zone, due to a blockade imposed by Saharawi activists cutting off the commercial passage between Morocco and Mauritania. 

Faced with the historical problems that remain, the Alawite kingdom is proposing a formula of broad autonomy for Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty; A proposal that has broad international support and which received a strong boost with the backing of the United States, which has recognised the Moroccan sovereignty of the Sahara since the last administration of Donald Trump in exchange for the Alaouite kingdom establishing diplomatic ties with Israel in the wake of the Abraham Accords sponsored by the American giant, which led to a historic agreement by which the Israeli country established relations with several Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. In addition, several important nations have supported Morocco by announcing the opening of embassies in important enclaves such as Dakhla and El Aaiún, including the United States and the United Arab Emirates. Nations such as Germany and the UK have also recently reached out to Morocco to give it their full backing. 

On the other hand, the Polisario Front has been advocating for years the holding of a referendum on independence for the Sahrawi people, a proposal that has little international support, including that of Algeria. 

Puesto fronterizo entre Marruecos y Mauritania en Guerguerat, situado en el Sáhara Occidental
AFP/FADEL SENNA - Morocco-Mauritania border crossing point at Guerguerat, Western Sahara

Staffan de Mistura, the Italian-Swedish diplomat, appointed three months ago after two years of obstacles to replace the previous envoy Horst Kohler, landed mid-morning at Tindouf airport, from where he travelled to the camps in a convoy of all-terrain vehicles escorted by the Algerian army and Polisario Front troops, as reported by the EFE news agency. 

His first stop was the Smara camp, the largest of the five camps in Tindouf, where he was received by the population and visited schools, hospitals and other infrastructures, as also reported by EFE. 

Staffan de Mistura's programme included meetings with representatives of the Polisario Front in charge of talks with the UN and various leaders in the area. In addition, a meeting between the UN envoy and Polisario leader Brahim Ghali is scheduled for Sunday. This is relevant because Brahim Ghali is a controversial figure within the Polisario Front; the Polisario Front leader was accused before the Audiencia Nacional in Spain by several activists who accused him of alleged acts of terrorism and torture in the Tindouf camps. 

Brahim Ghali, líder del Frente Polisario
AP/FATEH GUIDOUM - Brahim Ghali, Polisario Front leader

Brahim Ghali was also in the news in recent months because of the diplomatic conflict that broke out between Spain and Morocco due to his presence in Spanish territory to be hospitalised for a respiratory ailment. The North African country requested explanations from the Spanish government of Pedro Sánchez for allowing Brahim Ghali to enter its territory and for not having duly informed the Moroccan authorities of this. This event was followed by other uncomfortable situations such as the illegal entry of thousands of Moroccan immigrants through the Ceuta border or the withdrawal of the Moroccan ambassador from Madrid. In this case, there was also the underlying problem that Morocco feels it has not had sufficient support from Spain in relation to the Western Sahara conflict.

The effectiveness of the work of Staffan de Mistura, a diplomat with more than 40 years of experience in international politics who has held positions during his diplomatic career as the UN Secretary General's special envoy for Syria, for which he did a great deal of work, will now be tested. De Mistura will also visit Algeria and Mauritania as part of the Western Sahara tour.