UN appoints Sahara envoy after two-year delay

Staffan de Mistura brings more than four decades of experience in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and beyond

epa07019592 UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria Staffan de Mistura (R) attends a meeting, during the consultations on Syria, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 14 September 2018. Representatives from Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United States meet with the UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria for discussions about the situation in Syria.  EPA/XU JINQUAN / POOL

UN chief Antonio Guterres has appointed veteran Italian diplomat Staffan de Mistura as his personal envoy to negotiate the decades-old Sahara dispute, filling a post that has been vacant for two years.

Mr de Mistura, who previously helped UN peacemaking efforts in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere, will start work in November. He replaces Horst Kohler, who stepped down more than two years ago for health reasons.

Mr de Mistura, a former Italian deputy foreign minister who speaks English, French, Arabic and other languages, brings “more than 40 years of experience in diplomacy and political affairs”, the UN said in a statement on Wednesday.

Morocco considers the Sahara region as an integral part of its territory, a position supported by most Arab countries.

The territory boasts phosphate reserves and a long Atlantic coastline with access to rich fishing waters. UN-led talks between the three parties plus Mauritania have been stalled since Mr Kohler’s resignation in 2019.

Mr Guterres, the UN secretary general, put forward more than a dozen names for the role but struggled to find an envoy who had the support of the parties as well as powerful members of the world body.

Updated: October 7th 2021, 1:06 PM