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Sahara: de Mistura's second tour ends without major success

UN Special Envoy for Western Sahara completes his tour without major developments and agreements
PHOTO/AFP - El enviado de la ONU para el Sáhara Occidental, Staffan de Mistura, se reúne con el líder del Polisario, Brahim Ghali, en Tinduf, el 4 de septiembre de 2022, como parte de una gira regional

PHOTO/AFP  -   UN envoy for Western Sahara Staffan de Mistura meets with Polisario leader Brahim Ghali in Tindouf on 4 September 2022, as part of a regional tour

Staffan de Mistura, the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for Western Sahara completed his tour of the actors involved in the Western Sahara dossier on Tuesday. The Italian diplomat, who will soon be one year in the post, visited the Algerian capital, the Tindouf camps and finally the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott. 

He did not travel to Rabat, nor to the Saharan territories administered by the Moroccan state, despite having expressed months earlier his willingness to visit the most populated city in the region, Laayoune. Behind this decision lie both Algeria and Morocco, which are said not to have given their approval for such a visit. Algeria has been particularly critical and tense in this round of contacts, when it vetoed the use of a Spanish air force plane to transport the special envoy's team. Instead, de Mistura was flown by the Algerian national airline. Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General's spokesperson stands by his words of 5 July, assuring the "freedom of movement" that de Mistura enjoys in his mission. 

AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI - El enviado Personal del Secretario General para el Sáhara Occidental, Staffan De Mistura
AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI - The Secretary-General's Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Staffan De Mistura

The Tebboune government also expressed its desire for face-to-face negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which does not seem a plausible scenario in the short or medium term. For its part, the Polisario Front itself also voiced its criticism of the Spanish government, which it no longer considers a 'positive actor' for the peace process, after Pedro Sánchez's government demonstrated its preference for a Moroccan solution to the conflict, always within the framework of the UN resolution. 

The Polisario also criticised the UN, accusing it of a lack of forcefulness in the application of its resolutions in a statement signed by the chief of staff of the Sahrawi People's Liberation Army, Mohamed Luali Akeik. "The UN has shirked its responsibilities for thirty years, which has had repercussions on the Saharawi people, who are paying a high price due to the obstinacy of the Moroccan occupier", reads the statement by the military officer, with whom De Mistura met barely a day earlier. 

Anonymous sources quoted by the daily Jeune Afrique complain of a UN-led peace process with a worn-out working methodology that has not borne fruit in recent years. A former member of the pro-independence insurgent group reportedly told the French-language media specialising in Africa that "The UN method is still the same, nothing has changed, the envoy continues to meet with the same people, who repeat the same things. Although it is clear that we are not in a mediation context at all".

AFP PHOTO /Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores de Marruecos - Ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Marruecos, Nasser Bourita (R), recibiendo al Enviado del Secretario General para el Sáhara Occidental, Staffan De Mistura (L), en Rabat
AFP PHOTO /Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores de Marruecos - Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita (R) receiving the Secretary-General's Envoy for Western Sahara, Staffan De Mistura (L), in Rabat

On the UN's methodology in the Sahara, Sahrawi civil society groups such as the Sahrawi Movement for Peace also believe that it is not leading to anything. "After a year with the dossier in his charge, de Mistura has limited himself to making visits and rounds of contacts without any major results. This makes us pessimistic", declares Hach Ahmed Barak Allah, secretary general of the Sahrawi Peace Movement, in an interview with ATALAYAR. "In November 2021, we welcomed the appointment of Staffan de Mistura after three years without a special envoy. We had hoped that he would give a new impetus to the conflict, but that was not the reality", continues the Hassani, who regrets that the Italian diplomat did not even manage to enforce the ceasefire in the Sahara.

In Hach Ahmed Barak Allah's opinion, the UN's methodology is that of a blockade, which is not enough to break the vicious circle. "We can go on for another 50 years like this. In our opinion, new actors are needed in the dialogue of this dossier", he adds. "Sahrawi society does not have a single voice. That does not happen in any democracy, and that is why the UN paradigm fails. As for Algeria's requests to organise a dialogue between the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front, he does not believe that it will bring anything new to the resolution of the conflict. "It has already been done in the past years and it did not produce any results". 

Without passing through Dakhla or Laayoune, de Mistura arrived in Mauritania on Sunday 11 to meet the President of the Republic, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani. No details emerged of his conversation with the Mauritanian president and his team, apart from statements by Mauritanian diplomats to the EFE news agency, recalling the Islamic republic's traditional position of neutrality on this issue. 

Mauritania often plays the card of non-interference and neutrality in its own affairs, always taking an ambiguous position that allows it not to lose any diplomatic contact. Although the Mauritanian government recognises the self-determined Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, the Polisario Front does not maintain permanent representation in Nouakchott.