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Opinion

De Mistura in the Sahara

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The tour by Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for the Sahara, is a good sign that the international organisation intends to pull the necessary strings to tackle the necessary negotiations between the parties and achieve a solution to a conflict that has been going on for more than 40 years. At least from the General Secretariat, its head, the Portuguese António Guterres, is willing to overcome the many obstacles known and yet to emerge to try to make progress and recover the negotiating table in Geneva, which has already held two sessions before Algeria announced in October that it was abandoning it as a prior position of rejection of the new UN resolution that renewed MINURSO's mandate for another year, the force deployed in the Sahara, with a text calling for negotiations between the parties to reach a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution providing for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara in the framework of arrangements consistent with the principles and purposes of the UN Charter. 

The appointment, subject to acceptance by the parties, of the Secretary-General's new personal envoy, and his tour of the region, represents a determined willingness to relaunch negotiations that must take place in new circumstances that influence and condition many of the key elements of the conflict. The coronavirus pandemic has been hitting the two large Maghreb countries at loggerheads for the past two years. The situation of the thousands of Sahrawis living in the Tindouf camps is becoming increasingly precarious. Terrorist groups operating in the Sahel are stalking the Sahrawi camps and recruiting young people for their ranks.

US President Donald Trump's declaration of support for the Moroccan proposal for a broad autonomy for the Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty, not reversed by the new administration of Joe Biden, has created a dynamic of support from Arab and African countries that have opened consulates in Saharan capitals and economic and commercial projects for the region's development. In Europe, Germany and the UK have expressed their support for the Moroccan proposal, while France is measuring its moves, but the opening of a headquarters of President Macron's party in Dakhla is a clear gesture. 

Meanwhile, Spain has maintained its usual neutrality, referring to the United Nations as the appropriate framework for finding a solution to the conflict. The question now lies in changing the Algerian government's belligerent position towards Morocco and the position expressed by the Polisario Front's spokesperson upon De Mistura's arrival, who recalled the state of war on its part.