The new UN envoy for Western Sahara, Horst Koehler, was received by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI on Tuesday as part of his first regional tour. The former German President was appointed in August by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to relaunch mediation efforts between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which heads the fight for independence for the Sahrawi people.
Arriving on Sunday evening, Koehler began talks with Moroccan officials before he was received at the Royal Palace in Rabat the following day, where he also met with the head of the government. The envoy is scheduled to visit the Tindouf region on Wednesday and Thursday to meet Polisario representatives and Sahrawi refugees living in the camps along the border in the south-west of Algeria. Tindouf is currently home to refugee camps which host between 100,000 and 200,000 people. He will reportedly also visit the Algerian capital Algiers and Mauritania’s Nouakchott.
Since his appointment, the UN Secretary-General has spoken of desire to stimulate a “new dynamic” around the conflict which is poisoning Algiers-Rabat relations and has hindered wider North African cooperation. In the wake of this, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution in support of a resumption of negotiations which will be extended until April 2018 for the MINURSO peacekeepers in particular, who are responsible for monitoring the ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario Front signed in 1991.
Koehler succeeded American envoy Christopher Ross in this role. Ross resigned in May after eight years in the mission marked by tensions between Morocco and the UN.
The Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, is a contested territory which Morocco believes to be part of its sovereignty. The Algeria-backed Polisario Front, meanwhile, is fighting for independence for the Sahrawi people.