Following a series of significant developments in the Western Sahara conflict, special envoy Kholer’s resignation in May 2019 prompted questions about the reasons behind his departure.
Rabat – The United Nations has responded to concerns regarding the long wait for a new Personal Envoy of the UN-Secretary General to Western Sahara after the resignation of Horst Kohler over six months ago.
Kohler resigned in May 2019, the official statement cited health reasons for the envoy’s resignation.
The sudden resignation amid important developments in the conflict cast doubts about his decision, with some observers suggesting that the envoy’s departure was a sign that a political solution to end the dispute over Western Sahara is not on the horizon.
The lack of progress and communication from the UN about Kholer’s replacement also prompted concern, with journalists openly questioning the decision not to replace the envoy at a UN press briefing.
On January 13, a journalist asked the spokesperson for the UN, Stephane Dujarric about the reasons that “bars the Secretary-General [Antonio Guterres] from appointing a new Special Envoy, Personal Envoy to Western Sahara?”
Giving context to the question , the journalist explained that tension is rising in Western Sahara. The reporter spotlighted the situation in Guerguerat and the Polisario Front’s continued threats to break the ceasefire and military agreements in the region.
“This issue has been lagging for more than six months,” the question underlined.
The spokesperson’s response merely echoed previous statements about the position. He stated that there are “no reasons that bars” the UN from appointing a replacement for Kohler.
“The search is ongoing, and when we have someone to announce, we will do so,” he said.
Morocco and the UN, as well as the other parties to the conflict, regretted Kholer’s resignation. The former envoy played a major role in working towards a resolution to the conflict as he was able to convene all the parties T round-tables to discuss the dispute, with the aim to find a political solution and an agreed-upon method to end the dispute.
There have been no further developments since Kholer’s roundtables, but the meeting of the parties in two roundtables for discussion was a diplomatic achievement in its own right.
However, the six month transition period is not unprecedented. Guterres appointed Kholer to the special envoy role seven months after his own inauguration as UNSG in January 2017.
Responding to the journalist’s question, Dujarric also addressed the reference to tensions in Guerguerat, where Polisario Front members protested to disrupt the crossing of Africa Eco Race, an annual competition that follows a route from Monaco to Dakar.
The participants of the rally cross Morocco’s southern provinces and Guerguerat in Western Sahara, as the only gateway to sub-Saharan countries.
The Polisario Front has been threatening to take action against the UN and defy its resolutions if the participants cross Guerguerat.
In response the UN has strongly condemned Polisario’s threats, urging the Polisario Front not to disrupt regular civilian and commercial traffic in the region.
“It is important to allow for regular civilian and commercial traffic to proceed and to refrain from any action that may constitute a change to the status quo of the Buffer Strip,” Guterres wrote.
Despite the warnings, the Polisario Front did disrupt the passage, however, the Eco Race participants managed to cross the region with the help of intervention from MINURSO personnel.
“ I think, for us, today, on Monday morning, that we’re… we’re pleased to note that the Africa Eco Race passed through Guerguerat peacefully today,” Dujarric said.
The UN top official renewed Guterres call, addressing “everyone to exercise maximum restraint, defuse any tensions, and we’re glad the race went through without any incident. “
“We continue to be committed to supporting the parties to reach a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution to the conflict in accordance with Security Council resolutions,” concluded the statement.