CrisisWatch

Tracking Conflict Worldwide

CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, an early warning tool designed to help prevent deadly violence. It keeps decision-makers up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises every month, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace. In addition, CrisisWatch monitors over 50 situations (“standby monitoring”) to offer timely information if developments indicate a drift toward violence or instability. Entries dating back to 2003 provide easily searchable conflict histories.

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January 2024

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Reports of Moroccan artillery movement fuelled speculation of possible military operation in Western Sahara; Rabat secured chairmanship of UN Human Rights Council.

Media reports emerged of possible Moroccan military operation in buffer zone. Spanish newspaper La Razón 16 Jan reported movement of heavy artillery in Bir Gandouz area in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara. Local sources indicated Morocco might be preparing limited operation against Polisario Front independence movement inside UN-monitored buffer zone, while Moroccan press speculated Rabat may want to take over buffer zone, which could spark escalation with Algeria. Meanwhile, drone allegedly fired by Moroccan military 31 Dec killed three Mauritanian civilians in Guerguera area, Morocco-controlled Western Sahara. In retaliation, Mauritania early Jan reportedly increased customs duties applied to Moroccan goods entering Mauritania through Guerguera border crossing.

Rabat scored symbolic win at UN Human Rights Council. Morocco 10 Jan secured chairmanship of UN Human Rights Council despite strong opposition from Algeria and South Africa, who argued situation in Western Sahara and Rabat’s human rights record make country unfit to preside over intergovernmental body.

December 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

In renewed effort for Western Sahara conflict resolution, U.S. administration dispatched key North Africa diplomat to conduct new round of consultations with Algeria and Morocco.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for North Africa, Joshua Harris, 7 Dec met with Algerian FM Ahmed Attaf in capital Algiers, and 17 Dec met with Moroccan FM Nasser Bourita in capital Rabat. Washington’s engagement with both Algeria and Morocco is part of U.S. efforts to take more balanced stance on Western Sahara dispute in context where regional repercussions of Gaza war increase risk of escalation.

November 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Polisario Front independence movement launched rare rocket attacks in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara.

Four explosions overnight 28-29 Oct struck Moroccan-controlled city of Smara; Polisario claimed rocket attacks, said it targeted military infrastructures, but rockets hit residential areas, leaving one civilian dead and three others injured. New round of attacks reported 5 Nov in same area, with no casualties. Moroccan authorities opened investigation into blasts and FM Nasser Bourita 15 Nov said investigation’s outcome will inform Morocco’s response.

October 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

UN Security Council renewed MINURSO mandate.

UN Sec Gen António Guterres’ annual report on Western Sahara 3 Oct highlighted UN envoy Staffan de Mistura’s continuing efforts to relaunch UN-led peace process. UN Security Council 30 Oct voted to extend mandate of UN mission (MINURSO) for another year until 31 Oct 2024; resolution won support of 13 of 15 Security Council members, with Russia and Mozambique abstaining, as council remains divided on Western Sahara crisis.

September 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura visited Morocco-controlled Western Sahara for first time since appointment two years ago in bid to revive stalled political process on disputed territory.

UN envoy visited Morocco-controlled Western Sahara for first time. Ahead of UN Security Council meeting on Western Sahara in October, UN envoy for Western Sahara, Staffan de Mistura, 4 Sept began first visit to Morocco-controlled Western Sahara since 2021 appointment; de Mistura had renounced previous trips due to Rabat-imposed restrictions on meeting list.

U.S. redoubled engagement to advance UN-led political process. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for North Africa, Joshua Harris, 31 Aug-4 Sept visited Algeria and Morocco to support UN efforts to revive peace process; Harris notably met with Polisario Front independence movement leader, Brahim Ghali, in Sahrawi refugee camps of Tindouf (Algeria).

In other important developments. At UN General Assembly, heated exchange 26 Sept took place between Algerian and Moroccan representatives over Western Sahara.

August 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Polisario Front independence movement leader attended summit of BRICS bloc of emerging economies in South Africa.

Amid tense relations between South Africa and Morocco, president of self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and Polisario Front independence movement leader, Brahim Ghali, 22-24 Aug attended summit of BRICS bloc of emerging economies in South African city of Johannesburg. Earlier in month, Morocco’s state news agency MAP 19 Aug denied South Africa’s FM Anil Sooklal’s claim that Morocco was among countries seeking to join BRICS, said Morocco would not send delegation to BRICS summit in South Africa.

July 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

In new diplomatic victory, Morocco secured Israel’s recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Israel recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. Israel 17 July recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, also announced appointment of military attaché in Rabat liaison office, which suggests impending full upgrade of diplomatic relations. Algiers 20 July criticised move as “blatant violation of international law” that “can in no way legitimise sovereignty over occupied Sahara lands” (see Algeria). Moroccan King Mohammed VI 29 July welcomed Israel’s decision while calling for “return to normality” with Algeria and “opening of borders between the two neighbouring, sister countries and peoples”.

EU-Morocco fishing deal expired. Fishing protocol to EU-Morocco association agreement 17 July expired and was not renewed pending EU Court of Justice’s final decision on legality of including Western Sahara in protocol; expiration leaves European trawlers without license to fish in Moroccan and Western Saharan waters.

June 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Attack reported in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara for first time since ceasefire collapsed in Nov 2020.

Bombing reportedly damaged phosphate facility in Western Sahara. NGO Western Sahara Resource Watch late May reported explosion in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara destroyed section of conveyor belt transporting phosphates from mine to export facility; neither Morocco nor Polisario Front independent movement commented on incident which, if confirmed, would be first attack in Moroccocontrolled Western Sahara since ceasefire collapsed in 2020 and highlight unexpected vulnerability of Morocco’s security apparatus.

Israel pledged to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. During visit to Morocco, Israeli Parliament Speaker Amir Ohana 8 June said Israel will soon support Morocco’s claim of sovereignty over Western Sahara; move could lead to full upgrade of Israeli-Moroccan ties, with countries’ respective missions, now designated as liaison offices, becoming embassies, and free trade agreement in medium term.

May 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

U.S. govt held meetings with Moroccan and Algerian officials on Western Sahara, highlighting Washington’s efforts to inject momentum into UN attempts to resume peace talks.

U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken and Moroccan FM Nasser Bourita 14 May held phone conversation on Western Sahara and other matters. Call readout mentioned U.S. support for UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura’s efforts to intensify “UN process on Western Sahara toward an enduring and dignified political solution”; readout however lacked usual reference to Washington’s support for Rabat’s autonomy plan as U.S. pressures Morocco to soften its position and resume talks with Polisario Front independence movement. U.S. Ambassador to Algeria Elizabeth Moore Aubin mid-May met with Algerian Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Sec Gen Amar Belani in Algiers; Algerian foreign affairs ministry said two sides agreed on “importance of supporting” UN envoy’s efforts to resume negotiations over Western Sahara.

April 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

For first time in months, ground convoy completed resupply of UN mission in Polisario-controlled territory.

UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) 5-7 April resupplied two sites hosting peacekeepers east of sand berm after Polisario Front independence movement provided safe passage to ground convoy coming from Morocco-controlled Western Sahara. Meanwhile, UN envoy for Western Sahara, Staffan de Mistura, 3-10 April conducted consultations with Algeria, France, Mauritania, Russia, Spain, UK and U.S. ahead of UN Security Council closed-door session on Western Sahara on 19 April; resumption of negotiations between Morocco and Polisario remained elusive.

March 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

UN envoy held consultations with parties to Western Sahara conflict ahead of Security Council meeting due in April.

Preparations under way for next UN Security Council meeting on Western Sahara. UN 28 March said UN Sec-Gen’s envoy for Western Sahara, Staffan de Mistura, invited representatives of Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Polisario Front independence movement “to informal bilateral consultations” “to continue seeking mutually agreeable formulas to advance the political process” ahead of Security Council meeting on Western Sahara scheduled for 20 April.

Tensions continued to run high between Morocco and Algeria. After director of Moroccan Royal Archives, Bahija Simou, late Feb said Morocco’s sovereignty extends over Western Sahara but also Eastern Sahara (which is part of Algeria), Algeria’s Army Chief of Staff Saïd Chengriha 15 March said army “is ready to cut the hand of those who want to undermine Algeria’s sovereignty”. Algeria’s President Tebboune in interview with Al Jazeera news channel 21 March said Algeria’s relations with Morocco have reached “the point of no return” (see Algeria).

February 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

President Ghali reshuffled govt, while tensions remained high between Morocco and Algeria over status of disputed territory.

Cabinet reshuffle removed political heavyweights. President of self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), Brahim Ghali, 14 Feb reshuffled cabinet, notably replacing long-time FM Mohamed Ould Salek with Mohamed Sidati, former Polisario Front independence movement representative in Paris; Ghali also appointed Sahrawi-Algerian citizen Meriem Salek Hamada as new interior minister. Bechir Mustapha Sayed, who in Jan ran against Ghali to become Polisario Front secretary general, removed from his position as presidential adviser.

Algeria and Morocco remained at loggerheads over Western Sahara’s status. Responding to written questions from MEPs, European Union (EU) Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell 17 Feb said EU “does not have information on potential collaboration between Polisario Front and terrorist groups” in Sahel region and “has not detected any evidence” of diversion of humanitarian aid provided to Sahrawi refugees. Algerian and pro-Polisario media outlets immediately welcomed statement as evidence that Morocco’s longstanding allegations are baseless. During African Union (AU) summit held 18-19 Feb in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, divisions between Morocco, on one hand, and Algeria and SADR, on the other, blocked appointment of North African country representative as VP of AU bureau.

January 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Polisario Front independence movement re-elected Brahim Ghali as president; Rabat continued to press international partners to side with Morocco over Western Sahara.

Polisario leader re-elected during national congress. Polisario Front independence movement 13 Jan launched 16th Congress in Algeria’s Tindouf province and 20 Jan re-elected Brahim Ghali as president with 69% of votes; Ghali, who was challenged by other Polisario heavyweight Bechir Mustapha Sayed amid growing internal rifts over movement’s strategy, vowed to intensify struggle against Morocco to achieve sovereignty.

Morocco continued to exert pressure on partners over Western Sahara. U.S.-based news outlet Axios 4 Jan revealed Rabat demanded that Israel recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara before kingdom opens embassy in Tel Aviv. In interview with French newspaper L’Opinion, Moroccan PM Aziz Akhannouch 16 Jan said Paris “cannot simply be an observer” in Western Sahara conflict and needs to clarify stance; statement comes ahead of expected official visit by French President Macron to Morocco in Feb or March.

In other important developments. At opening ceremony of African Nations Championship football tournament in Algiers, Nelson Mandela’s grandson Mandla Mandela 13 Jan called for liberation of “the last colony of Africa, Western Sahara”; Morocco’s football federation next day condemned “provocative” speech.

December 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

UK court validated Morocco-UK association agreement; France reiterated support for Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara.

Morocco-UK association agreement including Western Sahara deemed legal. London court 5 Dec quashed campaign group’s lawsuit against UK’s post-Brexit trade arrangements with Morocco, which extend preferential rate of import duty to goods originating from Western Sahara. Lawsuit unlikely to presage European Union (EU) Court of Justice’s verdict on inclusion of Western Sahara in EU’s association agreement with Morocco given different legal systems in use in UK and EU.

France reiterated support for Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara. French FM Catherine Colonna 16 Dec met with Moroccan counterpart Nasser Bourita in Morocco’s capital Rabat, said Paris remained “favorable” to Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara.

November 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Lawyers and NGO coalition filed new torture complaints against Morocco and UN Sec-Gen Guterres met with Moroccan King Mohammed VI.

Human rights groups, including International Federation for Human Rights, 8 Nov filed new complaints against Morocco before UN Committee Against Torture demanding release of six Sahrawi prisoners, saying their confessions were obtained under torture. UN Sec-Gen Guterres 23 Nov met in Morocco’s capital Rabat with Moroccan King Mohammed VI on margins of UN Alliance of Civiliza-tions conference; Mohammed VI reaffirmed Morocco’s position that Western Sahara conflict should be settled “within the framework of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the kingdom”.

October 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

UN Security Council renewed peacekeeping mission’s mandate for one year, while Morocco and pro-independence Polisario Front continued to seek diplomatic support for their respective positions.

UN Security Council called for revival of UN-led peace process. UN Security Council 27 Oct extended mandate of UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 31 Oct 2023; resolution, adopted by 13 votes in favour with Russia and Kenya abstaining, renewed call on Morocco and Polisario Front to “resume negotiations” to allow for “lasting and mutually acceptable” solution, and expressed “deep concern” at breakdown of 1991 ceasefire. Ahead of vote, UN Sec-Gen António Guterres 3 Oct released annual report on situation in Western Sahara, noting that low-intensity military clashes between Moroccan military and Polisario Front continued, Morocco conducted airstrikes in Western Sahara, and Polisario Front imposed limits to MINURSO’s operations east of the sand berm.

Diplomatic battle over Western Sahara continued. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa 18 Oct hosted Polisario Front leader and Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic President Brahim Ghali and reaffirmed his position in favour of Western Sahara’s right to self-determination. During visit to Morocco, Belgian FM Hadja Lahbib 20 Oct reiterated Belgium’s support for UN-led process and said Rabat’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara was “good basis” for final settlement of dispute.

September 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

UN envoy continued regional tour, and confusion emerged over Kenya and Spain’s positions on contested territory.

Envoy for Western Sahara Staffan de Mistura 3-4 Sept met with Polisario Front independence movement leader, Brahim Ghali, and Polisario’s UN representative, Sidi Mohamed Omar, in Algeria’s Tindouf province to discuss current state of Western Sahara conflict between Polisario and Morocco ahead of UN Security Council meeting on Western Sahara in October. Kenya’s new President William Ruto 14 Sept announced via Twitter decision to withdraw his country’s recognition of contested Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) before deleting tweet few hours later. Kenyan FM Macharia Kamau 16 Sept clarified in internal note that country’s position remained unchanged. Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez 22 Sept said Spain supported “mutually acceptable political solution” regarding disputed territory; declaration partly contradicts Madrid’s endorsement of Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara in March.

August 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Diplomatic row erupted between Morocco and Tunisia over Western Sahara; UN warned of serious food insecurity in Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria. Moroccan King Mohammed VI 20 Aug called on international partners to offer “unequivocal” support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara, suggesting friendship with Rabat will be measured by diplomatic stand on dispute. Polisario Front independence movement 22 Aug responded Western Sahara’s status is “clearly and explicitly defined” as country “separate and distinct” from Morocco. Morocco 26 Aug recalled ambassador to Tunisia hours after Tunisian President Saïed met with Polisario leader and Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic President Brahim Ghali in Tunis ahead of development conference; Tunisian govt next day recalled ambassador to Rabat for consultations, reaffirmed Tunisia’s “neutrality over Western Sahara issue”. UN team in Algeria 24 Aug warned Sahrawi refugees in Algeria’s Tindouf province at risk of serious food insecurity and malnutrition after funding gaps forced World Food Programme to cut food rations in camps by 75%.

July 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

UN envoy cancelled visit to Western Sahara after Rabat reportedly tried to impose restrictions. Polisario Front independence movement 4 July denounced Morocco’s “obstructionism” after UN envoy for Western Sahara, Staffan de Mistura, called off plans to visit Western Sahara as part of his early July trip to Morocco. Local media outlets reported de Mistura’s decision came after Rabat objected to his initial schedule and tried to impose strict limits to his interlocutors and meetings in Western Sahara.

June 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Relations between Algeria and Spain continued to deteriorate over Western Sahara, while civil society groups mobilised against Moroccan repression of Sahrawi activists. Algeria 8 June announced suspension of 2002 friendship and cooperation treaty with Madrid, and next day froze bilateral trade operations, citing Spain’s endorsement of Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 10 June warned suspension of trade operations might violate EU-Algeria partnership agreement and lead to “retaliatory measures” (see Algeria). Meanwhile, group of NGOs and lawyers 9 June filed several complaints against Morocco with UN Committee Against Torture, denouncing mistreatment and alleged torture of four Sahrawi activists currently in prison in Morocco.

May 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Morocco continued to secure greater international support for its Western Sahara autonomy plan. Polisario Front independence movement representative to Spain, Abdullah Arabi, 7 May called on Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez to “rectify” position on Western Sahara, claiming Madrid’s endorsement in March of Rabat’s autonomy plan for disputed territory leads Spain “away from international legality”. Meanwhile, Rabat and Madrid continued to mend ties, notably reopening land borders between Morocco and Spain’s enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla mid-May. Dutch govt 11 May expressed support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara, calling it “serious and credible contribution” to the UN-led political process to resolve Western Sahara dispute. Turkish govt also 11 May stated support for Morocco’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity”; next day, however, said support only extends to “internationally recognised borders”.

April 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Moroccan drone attacks reportedly killed three near Mauritanian border, and Polisario Front independence movement suspended relations with Spain in protest at Madrid’s rapprochement with Morocco. Algeria 12 April accused Morocco of killing three civilians in 10 April drone strikes in Polisario-held Western Sahara near Mauritanian border (see Algeria). After Spain in March endorsed Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara, ending year-long diplomatic crisis between Madrid and Rabat, Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez 7 April met with King Mohamed VI of Morocco in Rabat; leaders announced roadmap to normalise relations. Polisario Front 9 April announced suspension of relations with Spain, citing Madrid’s “instrumentalisation of Sahrawi cause” for political and economic purposes. Meanwhile, UN Security Council 20 April held semi-annual closed-door meeting with UN Envoy for Western Sahara Staffan de Mistura; latter same day announced upcoming regional tour for new consultations with conflict parties.

March 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

In major policy shift, Spain endorsed Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara, raising tensions with Algeria. Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez 18 March publicly supported Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara; move, which came after months of suspended diplomatic relations between Spain and Morocco, ends Madrid’s longstanding neutral stance on Western Sahara conflict. Algeria next day recalled ambassador to Spain for consultations, condemning Madrid’s “abrupt U-turn”. Earlier in month, Morocco 2 March avoided participating in UN General Assembly vote to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine, while Algiers abstained; both countries keen to avoid antagonising Russia, which can play key role in Western Sahara conflict as veto-wielding permanent member of UN Security Council.

February 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Military tensions remained high despite UN-led de-escalation efforts. Polisario Front independence movement 11 Feb said it had killed 12 Moroccan soldiers in series of operations first week of Feb; claim comes after several Moroccan airstrikes or drone attacks reportedly hit Polisario-held Western Sahara in late-Jan. UN Sec-Gen’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara Staffan de Mistura 3 Feb met with U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken; Blinken reiterated U.S. support for UN political process for Western Sahara. Moroccan FM Nasser Bourita 14 Feb reaffirmed his country’s commitment to negotiations under UN auspices, insisted autonomy plan is only solution and said Algeria “party to the conflict”.

January 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Recently-appointed UN envoy embarked on regional tour signalling renewed international effort to resolve Western Sahara conflict; several drone attacks reported during month. UN Sec-Gen’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara Staffan de Mistura 12-19 Jan visited Maghreb region to try and relaunch negotiations on disputed territory. De Mistura met with Moroccan FM Nasser Bourita in Moroccan capital Rabat 13 Jan; Polisario Front independence movement leader Brahim Ghali in Sahrawi refugee camp in Algeria’s Tindouf province 16 Jan; Mauritanian President Ould Ghazouani in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott next day; Algerian FM Ramtane Lamamra and Algerian envoy for Western Sahara and Maghreb countries Amar Belani in Algeria’s capital Algiers 19 Jan. Morocco and Algeria reaffirmed their position: Morocco stated its readiness to resume negotiations under so-called roundtable format, which includes Mauritania and Algeria, while Algeria called for direct negotiations. French newspaper La Croix reported Moroccan drone strike 3 Jan killed three Mauritanian civilians in UN buffer zone. Sources close to political force Sahrawi Movement for Peace mid-Jan reported drone attack killed four Polisario members in eastern Mehaires area in Polisario-held Western Sahara.

December 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Polisario Front independence movement hardened stance against UN-led negotiations, further widening gap with Morocco. In letter to UN Sec-Gen Guterres made public 7 Dec, Polisario leader Brahim Ghali said movement would not participate in any UN-led peace process on Western Sahara, citing UN silence on Morocco’s “policy of terror against Sahrawi civilians in the occupied areas of Western Sahara”; move comes after Polisario late Nov-early Dec withdrew from roundtable negotiations hosted by Switzerland, a format preferred by Morocco that includes Algeria and Mauritania, said it would only accept AU-led bilateral talks. Meanwhile, repression against Sahrawi activists inside Morocco-controlled Western Sahara intensified. In run-up to 11 Dec Morocco-Algeria football match, Rabat imposed curfew and closed cafés and restaurants in Laayoune and other Western Sahara cities. After Algeria’s victory, spontaneous celebrations erupted in Laayoune with Sahrawi activists shouting pro-independence and anti-Moroccan slogans; Moroccan security forces reportedly arrested and beat several individuals.

November 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Tensions escalated over reported deadly drone attacks by Moroccan forces on both Algerian and Western Saharan civilians. Algerian President Tebboune 3 Nov accused Moroccan forces of killing three Algerian truck drivers in Polisario Front independence movement-controlled Western Sahara 1 Nov; said possible drone attacks “will not go unpunished”. In official letters to international organisations including African Union and UN, Algiers 4 Nov condemned “terrorist act”, affirmed Algeria’s “willingness and ability to assume its responsibilities in protecting its citizens and their property in all circumstances”. Morocco did not comment. Polisario mid-Nov accused Moroccan military of killing 11 civilians in 14-15 Nov drone attacks in Miyek area, Polisario-controlled Western Sahara. Meanwhile, Polisario 1 Nov named Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’s former PM Mohamed Wali Akeik, who in recent months has called for escalating offensive against Morocco, as Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army chief of staff; Akeik’s appointment came days after UN Security Council resolution renewing UN Mission (MINURSO)’s mandate failed to emphasise self-determination process. Responding to EU Court of Justice’s Sept ruling against inclusion of Western Sahara in EU-Morocco trade deals, Moroccan King Mohammed VI 5 Nov said Morocco refuses any “economic or commercial deal that excludes the Moroccan Sahara”.

October 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Appointment of new UN envoy after two-year search signalled major step toward rekindling peace process. UN Sec-Gen Guterres 6 Oct appointed Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura as new personal envoy for Western Sahara; post had remained vacant since 2019 as Morocco or Polisario Front independence movement rejected a dozen other candidates. UN Security Council 29 Oct renewed mandate of UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for one year, also expressed concern at breakdown of 1991 ceasefire and called for revival of UN-led negotiations. NGO Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project 27 Oct reported Moroccan forces mid-Oct launched strikes on Polisario Front positions in Tifariti and Mahbes areas. Amid persistent diplomatic tensions between Algeria and Morocco over Western Sahara, Algerian media outlets accused Rabat of involvement in 13 Oct bomb attack that killed Algerian soldier in Tlemcen province near border with Morocco.

September 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Search for UN special envoy made progress, while tensions remained high between Rabat and Algiers. Morocco 15 Sept reportedly agreed to nomination of Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura as new UN Sec-Gen’s personal envoy for Western Sahara; Polisario Front independence movement in May said it would accept de Mistura’s nomination; position has remained vacant since 2019, hindering peace process. Algeria 22 Sept closed its airspace to all Moroccan planes, citing “provocations and hostile practices” by Rabat; relationship between Algiers and Rabat has long been strained, notably over Western Sahara conflict. Algerian FM Ramtane Lamamra and Moroccan FM Nasser Bourita 27 Sept took their dispute to UN General Assembly with former insisting on Sahrawi people’s “inalienable rights to self-determination” and latter condemning Algerian “interference”. EU Court of Justice 29 Sept annulled EU-Morocco agriculture and fishing trade deals that allow Morocco to export goods from Western Sahara.

August 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Tensions persisted as Polisario Front independence movement contested Rabat’s economic and diplomatic moves on disputed territory. Polisario Front’s representative in Spain, Abdulah Arabi, 7 Aug protested airline Binter Canarias’ recent decision to resume flights to and from Morocco-controlled Western Sahara, arguing it constitutes “violation of international law” and reiterating “any economic activity in the territory requires the consent of the Sahrawi people”. Algeria 24 Aug cut diplomatic ties with Morocco, citing “hostile actions”; relationship between Algiers and Rabat has long been strained, notably over Western Sahara conflict (see Algeria). UN Sec-Gen Guterres 27 Aug appointed Russian diplomat Alexander Ivanko as head of UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO); search for UN Sec-Gen’s personal envoy for Western Sahara still ongoing. Sierra Leone 30 Aug opened consulate to Morocco in Dakhla city in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara.

July 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Diplomatic row between Morocco and Algeria over Western Sahara took another turn, and pressure rose on Morocco to stop crackdown on Sahrawi activists. In virtual Non-Aligned Movement meeting, Algerian FM Ramtane Lamamra 14 July called on UN to accelerate appointment of UN envoy for Western Sahara; in response, Morocco’s Permanent Representative to UN Omar Hilale same day called for Algeria’s Amazigh-speaking Kabylia region “to fully enjoy their right to self-determination”, prompting Algiers 18 July to recall its ambassador to Morocco (see Algeria, Morocco). UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor 1 July urged Morocco to stop criminalising human rights activists, notably those working on issues related to Western Sahara, denounced “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture” of imprisoned activists; Lawlor expressed particular concern over cases of Sahrawi activists Naama Asfari and Khatri Dadda, who have been detained since 2010 and 2019, respectively, and Sultana Khaya, who has been under house arrest since Nov 2020. NGO Amnesty International 19 July said Morocco had intensified repression against pro-independence Sahrawi activists through “ill-treatment, arrests, detentions and harassment” since Nov 2020, reporting 22 cases of human rights violations by Moroccan security forces against Sahrawi activists and human rights defenders.

June 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Polisario Front independence movement leader testified before Spanish court and left country for Algeria. Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali 1 June testified before Spain’s High Court to answer accusations against him of alleged crimes, including torture and genocide; court allowed him to leave Spain where he had been treated for COVID-19 since April. Ghali overnight 1-2 June returned to Algeria and received President Tebboune’s visit in military hospital; in interview with French newspaper Le Point, Tebboune 3 June attacked Rabat and reiterated his full support to Polisario Front.

May 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Tensions continued to run high between Polisario Front independence movement and Morocco. Polisario Front 20 May said it had consented to appointment of Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura as UN Sec-Gen Guterres’ new envoy to Western Sahara, accused Morocco of “blocking” Mistura’s appointment. Spanish govt 23 May said Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali, who has been treated for COVID-19 in Spain since April, should answer legal charges before leaving country; Polisario Front 26 May said Ghali would answer allegations of torture and genocide before Spanish court on 1 June; Ghali’s presence in Spain fuelled tensions between Rabat and Madrid throughout month (see Morocco).

April 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Morocco reportedly used drone for first time on disputed territory, killing one Polisario Front independence movement leader. Moroccan forces 6 April reportedly killed Polisario gendarmerie chief Addah al-Bendir in suspected drone strike near Tifariti town inside UN buffer zone; strike, which could be first-ever use of drone by Moroccan army in Western Sahara, reportedly followed Polisario attempt to raid Moroccan positions along Morocco’s sand wall. French newspaper Le Figaro 15 April reported Polisario had turned down UN Sec-Gen Guterres’ proposal of former Portuguese FM Luis Amado as new UN envoy to Western Sahara; Amado is ninth candidate to be rejected by either Morocco or Polisario since former envoy Horst Köhler resigned in 2019. Local media late April reported Guterres had proposed Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura as next envoy. UN Security Council 21 April failed to adopt U.S.-drafted proposal on Western Sahara which warned of possible “escalation” in disputed territory and stressed need to speed up envoy appointment process. Senegal 5 April inaugurated consulate in Dakhla city in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara, thereby joining other African countries in supporting Morocco’s sovereignty claims over disputed territory.

March 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Situation remained tense between Polisario Front independence movement and Moroccan authorities. Morocco’s security forces throughout month strove to close series of possible security breaches and reinforce its detection system along east-west sand berm that separates Moroccan-controlled Western Saharan territory from Polisario-controlled Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. AU Peace and Security Council meeting 9 March discussed Western Sahara for first time since 2019; in subsequent statement, AU 18 March vowed to reactivate its role in search for political solution to conflict, in reversal of its 2019 decision to limit AU’s role in Western Sahara to offering support for UN-led efforts. AU also urged UN Sec-Gen Guterres to request UN Legal Counsel to provide legal opinion on opening of consulates in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 29 March urged Guterres to speed up appointment of personal envoy to Western Sahara. Morocco 1 March suspended diplomatic relations with Germany; move comes after Berlin in Dec 2020 demanded that UN Security Council discuss developments in Western Sahara in closed-door session.

February 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Polisario Front independence movement said it killed Moroccan soldiers inside Morocco for first time since 1991 ceasefire; Rabat denied claim. Polisario 9 Feb said it raided Moroccan army garrison in Ouarkziz area in southern Morocco previous day, killing three soldiers; Polisario’s claim of inflicting losses on kingdom’s soil is a first since 1991 ceasefire. Moroccan PM Saad-Eddine El Othmani next day denied claim as propaganda war. Bipartisan group of 27 U.S. senators 17 Feb urged U.S. President Biden to reverse former U.S. President Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara; group also called on U.S. to recommit to referendum on self-determination as solution to conflict. Position of UN envoy for Western Sahara remained vacant after Polisario Front in Jan rejected appointment of former Romanian PM Petre Roman, citing his ties with Morocco and past participation in event organised inside Morocco-controlled Western Sahara. Polisario late Feb said “UN bears great responsibility for Morocco’s actions” in Western Sahara, including Rabat’s incursion into UN-monitored Guerguerat Buffer Strip in Nov. Rights activist Mahmoud Lemaadel mid-Feb said Morocco had launched brutal crackdown on Western Sahara’s civil society in recent weeks.

January 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara