Sahara: New UN mediator’s first contacts on the ground

The personal envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Sahara, Horst Köhler, who embarked on his first tour of the region to relaunch the settlement process of the Moroccan Sahara issue, was received by King Mohammed VI on Tuesday at the Royal Palace in Rabat.

The former German President, who officially took up his functions as the personal envoy of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, on September 8, has plenty of work ahead of him in view of the vacuum left by his predecessor, American Christopher Ross.

Köhler who arrived Sunday in Rabat, the first stage of his Maghreb tour, is accompanied by his Special Adviser, David Schwake. Besides his meeting with the Monarch, he had a series of talks with the Head of Government, Saad Eddine El Otmani, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita, and the speakers of the two chambers of the Parliament. Morocco’s Permanent Representative to the UN Omar Hilale attended the talks. No detail on the content of these talks were disclosed.

After Rabat, the Personnel Envoy arrived in the Aousserd camp, in Tindouf this Wednesday morning. In the afternoon, he held closed-door talks with Polisario leaders at their headquarters in the Rabbouni camp.

Köhler will later on visit Algiers and in a last stage, Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital.

Given the sensitivity of his mission, the UN mediator abstained from making any statement to the press. He is expected to brief the Security Council on October 24 on the results of his tour, before he submits a more detailed report on the Sahara issue by February next year.

While the Algeria-backed Polisario continues to cling to the obsolete and unfeasible option of a “self-determination referendum”, Morocco has made many concessions and proposed to grant the part of its disputed Sahara broad autonomy, under its sovereignty, to settle once and for all the regional conflict.

It remains to be seen whether the new UN management team, including Antonio Guterres and his personal envoy, Horst Köhler, will do better than their predecessors Ban Ki-Moon and Christopher Ross who have utterly failed to make progress towards a settlement.

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