Former German president Horst Koehler to be named as U.N. Western Sahara envoy

Former German President Horst Koehler arrives for the state funeral of late German President Roman Herzog in Berlin, Germany.

The United Nations secretary-general will name former German president and one-time IMF director Horst Koehler, as his new envoy for Western Sahara, in charge of restarting talks between Morocco and Polisario independence movement over the disputed territory.

The United Nations Security Council in April backed attempts to re-enter negotiations over Western Sahara, which has been contested since 1975 and where Morocco and Polisario fought a war until a 1991 ceasefire.

“Following the usual consultations, I intend to appoint Horst Koehler of Germany as my personal envoy for Western Sahara,” U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a letter to the Security Council released by the U.N. on Friday.

Tensions increased in Western Sahara last year when Moroccan forces faced off with a brigade of Polisario forces in the remote Guerguerat area near the Mauritania border. Both sides withdraw their forces this year.

Koehler was a former top executive at the International Monetary Fund and German president from 2004-2009. He later worked for the U.N. in development programs and on a panel for the African Development Bank.

Morocco claimed Western Sahara after colonial Spain left, but Polisario fought a guerrilla war for independence for the Sahrawi people there until the U.N.-backed ceasefire.

U.N. talks have failed to broker an agreement on how to decide on self-determination. Morocco wants an autonomy plan under Moroccan sovereignty. But the Polisario wants a U.N.-backed referendum including on the question of independence.

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