The UN announced the appointment of Staffan de Mistura as the body’s special envoy for the Western Sahara region, succeeding his predecessor, Horst Köhler, during a press conference held by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
“Guterres today announced the appointment of Staffan de Mistura as his personal envoy for Western Sahara,” Dujarric said.
He added, “Staffan de Mistura will succeed Horst Köhler, who completed his mission on May 22, 2019, and to whom the Secretary-General has expressed his gratitude for his tireless and intense efforts which have laid the groundwork for a new impetus in the political process in the Sahara region.”
Dujarric said the new Personal Envoy will use his good offices on behalf of the UN Secretary-General and work with all relevant protagonists, including parties, neighboring countries, guided by UN Resolution 2548, and resolutions of the Security Council and other bodies.
UN Resolution 2548, issued in October 2020, extended the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in the Sahara (MINURSO) until October and urged all parties to work to help the United Nations mission find a realistic political solution to the conflict.
Dujarric explained that De Mistura has more than 40 years of experience in diplomacy and political affairs, where, during his career at the United Nations, he served as Special Envoy for Syria, and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Iraq. He was also the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General for southern Lebanon and Director of the United Nations Information Center in Rome.
On August 27, Guterres appointed Russian diplomat Alexander Ivanko as his special representative for Western Sahara and Head of the MINURSO mission.
The tasks of the Special Envoy are to advance the negotiations between the two parties to the conflict over the Sahara region, while those of the Special Representative are linked to the conduct and management of the work of the MINURSO mission.
A conflict between Morocco and the Polisario over Western Sahara has been going on since 1975. The conflict began after the Spanish occupation in the region ended.
The conflict turned into an armed confrontation that lasted until 1991 and ended with the signing of a ceasefire agreement that determined Guerguerat as a demilitarized zone.
Rabat insists on its right to the Western Sahara region and proposes extended autonomy under its sovereignty, while the Polisario calls for a referendum to determine the fate of the region, a proposal supported by Algeria, which welcomes refugees from the region.