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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 27 February 2021

US envoy Schenker in visit to Laayoune in Sahara

Trip is part of regional tour that includes stop in Algeria

David Schenker, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, speaking during a press briefing in Algiers. AFP
David Schenker, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, speaking during a press briefing in Algiers. AFP

The US hailed as historic a visit by Middle East envoy David Schenker to the Sahara, which laid the groundwork for it to open a consulate in the territory.

Mr Schenker, the US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, travelled to Laayoune, the regional capital, on Saturday.

He met the city’s governor, Abdesslam Bikrat, and went to the headquarters of the UN peacekeeping mission for the territory.

Washington’s decision to recognise Morocco’s claim over the Sahara region is a shift in US foreign policy.

Mr Schenker travelled to Morocco from Algiers.

On Sunday, he was scheduled to head to Dakhla, where the official US presence in the Sahara will probably be based.

“We appreciate such a gesture,” said Khatat Yanja, head of Dakhla’s regional council.

Mr Yanya expressed hope for investment in tourism, renewable energy, farming and especially fishing.

“It will open a new chapter altogether when it comes to investment in this region, via employing people and creating more resources. It will also open more doors for international trade.”

On December 24, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington planned to establish an online presence in the Sahara initially, to be managed from the US embassy in Morocco and focusing on economic and social development.

A “fully functioning consulate” would follow, Mr Pompeo said.

Updated: January 11, 2021 08:24 AM

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