Former German President Horst Koehler, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' "personal envoy" for Western Sahara, said his aim during the two days of talks in Geneva that ended Friday was to "consolidate the positive dynamic" created in a first, groundbreaking meeting in December. He said he planned to host another meeting, but did not specify when.
Speaking to reporters, Koehler cautioned that "many positions are still fundamentally diverging" and that nobody should expect "a quick outcome." The meeting brought together envoys from neighboring countries Algeria, Mauritania and Morocco, plus the Polisario Front independence movement. Last year, the U.N. Security Council called for accelerated efforts to reach a solution to a 43-year dispute over the territory.
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita reiterated the North African kingdom's position that neither the word "referendum" nor "independence" should be used in any steps toward self-determination that the parties noted as an ambition of U.N. Security Council resolution 2440 of last year.
Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975 and fought the Polisario Front until the United Nations brokered a cease-fire in 1991 and set up a peacekeeping mission to monitor it. Morocco has proposed wide-ranging autonomy for Western Sahara. But the Polisario Front insists the local population, which it estimates at 350,000 to 500,000, has the right to a referendum on the territory's future that was called for in the cease-fire but has never taken place.
"We must not relent in our search for a compromise," Koehler said.