the reasons for a vacancy – Jeune Afrique

A snake biting its tail: this is how the situation surrounding the appointment of a special UN envoy to the Sahara could be illustrated. On 2 July, Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, called on Morocco and the Polisario Front to accept the next candidate he would propose to them for this post.

“The difficulty is that we have already proposed thirteen names and that we have not reached consensus from the parties,” the latter admitted. Guterres made this statement in Madrid during a joint press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez as Morocco and Spain go through a serious diplomatic crisis, of which the Sahara is the main cause.

“Morocco is reserved for De Mistura because of his background and his separatist sensitivity”

The post of Special Envoy to the Sahara has been vacant since the resignation of former German President Horst Köhler, officially for “health reasons”, in May 2019, ie two years and two months. In April, Antonio Guterres proposed the name Staffan de Mistura to become the new UN envoy to the Sahara, a proposal accepted by the Polisario Front but ultimately rejected by Rabat.

De Mistura, a 74-year-old Italian-Swedish diplomat, is a specialist in hot conflict zones: he was a mediator in Syria in 2014, but also a special representative in Afghanistan (2010-2011), Iraq (2007-2009) and southern Lebanon (2001- 2004). It is on this basis that Moroccan diplomacy would have expressed reservations, given that such an appointment would support the “international communication campaign” of the Polisario Front, according to which it would be at open war with Morocco since 13 November.

Another element de Mistura would advocate is that negotiations on resolving the conflict be limited to the Kingdom and Polisario without Algeria, while Morocco considers its neighbor as a stakeholder in the conflict in accordance with the principle of Algiers’ participation in the March 2019 Geneva negotiations “Morocco is reserved for Mistura because of his background and his separatist, even separatist sensitivity,” political scientist Mustapha Sehimi also stressed.

Lack of candidates?

Following this refusal by Rabat, Algiers and Polisario pointed to Morocco and held it solely responsible for the blockade. On July 4, Mohamed Sidi Omar, representative of the Polisario Front at the UN, accused Morocco in particular of seeking to “inaugurate and anchor the status quo”.

By February 2020, the kingdom had rejected the appointment of former Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak. At the time, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, according to an acquaintance of Moroccan diplomacy, was against this candidacy because Lajcak had participated as a representative of the UN and the EU in organizing the referendum on Montenegro’s independence in 2006.

Algeria and Polisario also rejected candidacies, especially two in three months: Petre Romans, proposed in December 2020, and Luis Amados, proposed in March 2021. While these two profiles had been accepted by the Kingdom, Omar Hilale, Morocco’s Ambassador to the UN wrote a letter to the Security Council in the process of condemning “obstacles, blockades and postponement of Algeria and Polisario”.

“There have been other periods of ‘vacancy’, but never such a focus on matching a personality”

For the latter, Petre Roman, former Romanian prime minister, automatically disqualified him at the Crans Montana Forum in Dakhla in 2018. As for Luis Amado, it is a statement from 2017 that seems to be in question. “We call on all initiatives aimed at overcoming a deadlock on a problem that has been there for a long time. The Moroccan initiative, which we find positive, is part of this perspective,” Luis Amado had confirmed. , an exit rated “pro-Moroccan” by Polisario.

Fold in a position of strength

According to Mustapha Sehimi, it is the first time that the choice of a special envoy to the Sahara has created so much debate and rejection. “There have, of course, been other periods of‘ vacancy ’, but never such a focus on a personality agreement,” he believes.

Why ? “Partly because the terms of the file have changed in character and dimension since the US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty in the Sahara with Donald Trump in December 2020.” An acknowledgment confirmed by US diplomacy spokesman Ned Price, who assured on July 1 that it “remains the position of US President Joe Biden”.

“This continuity took a few months because the new American diplomacy was in a period of adjustments, and it must be said it had other priorities,” the political scientist continues. “But in any case, American support for Morocco, in addition to disrupting each other’s strategies, has strengthened the kingdom on this issue and opened a boulevard, a highway.”

The issue of appointing a special UN envoy to the Sahara will certainly be raised again at the end of September, just before the opening of the next session of the General Secretariat and the Security Council meeting in October. Maybe with a 14th proposed candidate.

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