GENEVA: In this file photo, UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura arrives to a press conference.-AFP

ALGIERS: Algeria, the main backer of Western Sahara’s Polisario Front independence movement, called on Morocco yesterday to withdraw from a key buffer zone, after the United Nations named a new envoy. The UN on Wednesday named veteran diplomat Staffan de Mistura as its point man on the decades-old conflict, a job that had remained vacant for nearly two and a half years as the Polisario and Morocco rejected a dozen other candidates. The Algerian foreign ministry noted “with interest” Mistura’s appointment, and called for the removal of Moroccan troops deployed late last year in the Guerguerat area in the far south of the territory.

They had been sent to reopen a key highway leading into Mauritania after it was blocked by Sahrawi activists who see it as violating a 1991 ceasefire deal. The “demilitarization of this zone… is the cornerstone of any credible political process aiming to find a peaceful solution to the conflict,” the Algerian ministry said. It said Algeria supported UN peace efforts and voiced hope that De Mistura could “relaunch direct, serious negotiations between the Polisario Front and the Kingdom of Morocco in order to reach a solution guaranteeing the Sahrawi people can freely and authentically exercise their inalienable right to self-determination.”

The UN sees the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, as a “non-autonomous territory”, but Morocco regards it as an integral part of its territory and insists its claim to sovereignty be recognised under any peace deal. The kingdom controls some 80 percent of the largely desert territory, which has mineral reserves and access to rich Atlantic fisheries, as well as providing a potentially strategic trade route linking Morocco with West African markets.

Rabat has proposed a plan for autonomy but the Polisario insists on an independence referendum as called for under the 1990 ceasefire deal. Morocco’s tense relations with Algeria have deteriorated since Rabat last year won Washington’s recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for normalizing ties with Zionist entity. United Nations veteran diplomat Staffan de Mistura was named Wednesday as the organization’s envoy to the Western Sahara conflict, nearly two and a half years after the post had become vacant as a dozen other candidates were rejected by either Morocco or the Polisario Front rebel movement.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric called Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s nomination of the 74-year-old Italian a “positive signal,” after such a long selection process. Dujarric said De Mistura would be set to take over the position, which has been empty since May 2019, on November 1. Morocco had initially rejected De Mistura-the thirteenth name floated for the job-as envoy in May before finally accepting the nomination under pressure from the United States, according to diplomats.

He will be based in Brussels, where he already lives, according to the UN.
He will succeed former German president Horst Kohler, who stepped down in 2019 after making little progress on ending the conflict despite having restarted talks between Morocco, the Polisario Front and regional powers Algeria and Mauritania.

The United States “warmly welcomes” De Mistura’s appointment, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, offering support for a political process to bring a “durable and dignified” end to the conflict. “We will actively support his efforts to promote a peaceful and prosperous future for the people of Western Sahara and the region,” the statement said.

“It suits them. They cannot annul Trump’s decision without altering the relationship created in the exchange between Morocco and the Zionist entity,” this official said. “And they cannot confirm it as they would go against UN resolutions,” the official said, adding that remaining on the fence allows the US to keep pressuring Morocco.

The UN considers Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, a “non-self-governing territory,” with the question of its control up in the air for decades. The issue has pitted Morocco against the independence-seeking Polisario Front, which is backed by Algeria. Rabat, which controls 80 percent of the vast soil-rich desert territory-bordering rich fishing grounds-has proposed a plan for Western Sahara self-governance under Moroccan sovereignty. – AFP