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De Mistura travels to Algeria after visiting the refugee camps of Tindouf

The Algerian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ramtane Lamamra, appeals to the UN diplomat to reactivate direct negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front on the question of the Sahara
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REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE  -   UN Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura

Although the initial plan only envisaged a two-day official visit to the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf, the decision of Staffan de Mistura - UN special envoy for the Sahara conflict - to go also to Algeria and Mauritania is equivalent, almost two months later, to the tour which the diplomat was expected to make last July, after his trip to Rabat. 

Thus, on Monday, the UN envoy for the Sahara arrived in the Algerian capital of Algiers, where he was received by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ramtane Lamamra, to discuss "the prospects for strengthening international efforts to resume direct negotiations between the two parties to the conflict, the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front", according to a statement from the Algerian Foreign Ministry, published by the state news agency APS. 

The document also explained that one of the main objectives of the meeting was "to reach a just and lasting political solution, acceptable to both parties and which guarantees that the Saharawi people can exercise their inalienable and imprescriptible right, in accordance with the relevant United Nations resolutions". These questions put Algerian support for the Polisario Front movement back on the table.

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REUTERS/RAMZI BOUDINA - UN envoy for Western Sahara Staffan de Mistura visits the refugee camp in Tindouf, Algeria

The meeting between De Mistura and Lamamra - at which Ambassador Ammar Blani, special envoy for the Maghreb countries and Western Sahara, was also present - follows the trip of the Italian-Swedish diplomat to the Saharawi camps in Tindouf, in Algerian territory, where he met with the head of the Polisario Front's negotiating delegation, Jatri Addouh, and its ambassador to the UN, Sidi Omar, on Saturday, as well as with the leader of the Sahrawi independence movement and president of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), Brahim Ghali, on Sunday.  

And while the Polisario Front asks the UN to "assume its responsibility towards the Sahrawi people", the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, arrived in the Algerian capital on Monday to analyse the North African country's energy cooperation with Europe, in the midst of the crisis caused by the war in Ukraine and the urgent need for the West to become independent of Russian supplies. During this visit, the European representative also hopes to address the situation in the Sahel and the Sahrawi conflict.

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REUTERS/ZOHRA BENSEMR - Tindouf refugee camp

Thus, this tour of the North African region, De Mistura's second after the one last January, aims to provide the United Nations diplomat with sufficient information for his appearance before the Security Council in October, as well as an instrument to eventually reactivate the peace process for Western Sahara, after the breakdown of the ceasefire between the Alaouite Kingdom and the Polisario Front - agreed in 1992 - in November 2020. This was the date on which the Polisario Front declared the agreement broken following the eviction of Saharawi activists at the Guerguerat border crossing (between Mauritania and Western Sahara). 

With the same objectives in mind, the special envoy's office stated over the weekend that De Mistura will visit Nouakchott, the capital of neighbouring Mauritania, on 10 September, where he will meet with government officials to consult "with all interested parties, with a view to making constructive progress in the political process in Western Sahara"

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REUTERS/RAMZI BOUDINA - Brahim Ghali, secretary general of the Polisario Front, meets with UN envoy for Western Sahara Staffan de Mistura in Tindouf, Algeria
A flight without Spanish flag

Historically, the flight carrying the UN Secretary General's personal envoy for Western Sahara to the region, prior to his tours, was carried by a Spanish Air Force aircraft. However, due to its "biased position on the Saharawi conflict", an Algerian source told the daily El Confidencial, "Spain has been disqualified, and can in no way be associated with efforts to relaunch the political process aimed at finding a solution". De Mistura, unlike his predecessors, did not arrive in the North African country on a Spanish-flagged flight

"The personal envoy can owe no debt to a country that has reneged on its traditional position of neutrality on the Western Sahara issue", concluded the Algerian source.

Conflicting proposals

The Moroccan proposal on the status of the Sahara, strongly supported at the international level, envisages a Western Sahara under the sovereignty of the Kingdom, but with broad political autonomy. This is a far cry from the proposal of the Polisario Front, which aspires to hold a referendum on independence, and whose international backing includes Algiers, a regional rival of neighbouring Rabat.