Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Western Sahara, ended his two-day visit to the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf in Algeria and met on Sunday with the head of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, in a private meeting.
During the visit of the UN representative, the Polisario Front criticised the lack of "greater forcefulness" on the part of the international body in the application of its resolutions on the Saharawi question, which has been at a standstill for almost five decades.
Initially, Staffan de Mistura's visit was apparently only to Tindouf to observe the difficult living conditions of the Saharawi refugees housed in the Algerian enclave and to hold talks with Polisario Front officials with a view to studying the current state of the conflict between them and Morocco over the territory of the Sahara, But it was also announced that this week De Mistura will travel to Algiers, capital of Algeria, and Nouakchott, capital of neighbouring Mauritania, with the aim of "advancing the political process", as reported by the daily El Mundo.
The conflict over the future of Western Sahara persists, especially since the Polisario Front broke the 1991 ceasefire between the parties involved in November 2020. Despite international efforts, there has been no clear evolution in almost five decades since the departure of the Sahrawi territory from Spain, which acted as the colonising country in the area.
Morocco proposes for the territory a formula of broad autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty that is widely accepted by very important countries in the international arena such as the United States, which under Donald Trump recognised the Moroccan sovereignty of the Sahara in December 2020 in exchange for Morocco establishing diplomatic ties with Israel, following the model of the Abraham Accords of September 2020, by which important Arab nations such as the Emirates and Bahrain established political relations with the Israeli state in order to promote the development of the Middle East and to pacify the region in the face of the belligerence of common enemies such as the Islamic Republic of Iran. Along these lines, nations such as Germany and Spain, among many others, decided to back the Moroccan initiative as the 'most serious, credible and realistic' way to solve the problem, as the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, indicated to the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI.
This Spanish decision served to recompose relations between two countries considered neighbours and allies, which went through a diplomatic crisis due to the presence of Brahim Ghali in Spain in April 2020 to be treated for a major respiratory ailment in a hospital in Logroño. The Alawi kingdom expressed its dissatisfaction as it considered that it had not been properly informed of this matter and made its displeasure felt. Subsequent episodes made the situation more difficult, such as the entry of tens of thousands of irregular immigrants through the Ceuta border and the withdrawal of the Moroccan ambassador from Madrid. Spain tried to redirect the situation with gestures of rapprochement such as those made by King Felipe VI or the appointment of José Manuel Albares as Foreign Affairs Minister, replacing Arancha González Laya, who was marked by the Ghali case. But it was not until the Spanish government supported Morocco's formula for resolving the Western Sahara conflict that full diplomatic relations were restored. After this, King Mohammed VI himself invited Pedro Sánchez to Rabat during Ramadan, and the two men drew up the road map that has been developing over the last few months to definitively establish stable ties between the two countries.
Before Staffan de Mistura's private meeting with Brahim Ghali on Sunday, on Saturday the UN special envoy met with the Polisario Front's chief negotiator, Jatri Aduh, and its ambassador to the United Nations, Sidi Omar.
The Polisario Front, seeing that it does not have much support on the international scene, unlike Morocco, showed its displeasure during Staffan de Mistura's visit. Thus, the head of the General Staff of the Saharawi army, Mohammed Luali Akeik, criticised on Sunday "the lack of forcefulness on the part of the United Nations in the application of its resolutions". This, together with "Morocco's evasions and obstacles to the peace process", Akeik considered, "are the bill that the Saharawi people pay and continue to pay if their right to freely choose their destiny is not respected", according to the official Saharawi news agency SPS, as reported by the daily El Mundo.
Mohammed Luali Akeik, who also met Staffan de Mistura together with other members of the Polisario military leadership, pointed out that 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".
The office of the UN special envoy for Western Sahara subsequently issued an official statement in which it confirmed that Staffan de Mistura will also visit Algiers on Monday to meet with Algerian leaders and that on 10 September he will go to Nouakchott to meet with officials of the Mauritanian government as part of "consultations with all the parties concerned with a view to making constructive progress in the political process in Western Sahara".
De Mistura is thus making a second tour of the region after the one he made in January when he took up his post. All this at a time when the situation is complicated after episodes such as the reception of Tunisian President Kais Saied to Brahim Ghali in the framework of TICAD, the Japan-Africa Cooperation Forum, which was considered by Morocco as a "hostile" act. The Alawi kingdom decided to withdraw its ambassador from Tunis despite the fact that the neighbouring North African country considered the situation to be normal, as Brahim Ghali had been present at this summit before, being a leader of an African Union member such as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
The Polisario Front continues to hold Morocco responsible for the lack of progress in the Saharawi conflict, since it understands that "it continues to be in a position of rebellion against international legality", as Jatri Aduh himself indicated in words reported by the EFE news agency. Aduh assured that "the Saharawi people have taken up the armed struggle again as a legitimate means precisely because they have tried to deviate from international legality", in reference to the ceasefire of last November 2020 agreed with Morocco.
The Polisario Front has already demanded on Saturday that the UN "assume its responsibility towards the Saharawi people" over the future of the former Spanish colony, which is considered a non-self-governing territory in the process of decolonisation, currently 80% of which is controlled by Morocco.
Nevertheless, the Moroccan initiative for a broad autonomy for Western Sahara under the sovereignty of the Kingdom is the one that has significant international support. This is in contrast to the Polisario Front's proposal to demand a referendum on independence for the Sahrawi people, which has less international support, including that of Algeria, Morocco's great regional rival with which it severed diplomatic relations a year ago due to deep political differences on various issues, including the conflict over Western Sahara.
Time will tell whether this second visit by Staffan de Mistura to the conflict zone will serve to reactivate the peace process for Western Sahara and to gather sufficient data so that the UN special envoy can appear before the UN Security Council next October to assess the current situation of the Saharawi problem and what options there are for reaching an understanding between the parties involved.
According to the UN, De Mistura "always hopes to be able to deepen consultations with all interested parties on the prospect of advancing the political process in Western Sahara".