CrisisWatch

Tracking Conflict Worldwide

CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, a tool designed to help decision-makers prevent deadly violence by keeping them up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace.

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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

Tensions remained high as Polisario Front independence movement threatened to step up attacks against Morocco, and Algeria held military exercise at border with Morocco. Polisario Front throughout month continued to shell Moroccan positions along East-West sand berm that separates Moroccan-controlled Western Saharan territory from Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic-controlled territory; notably, Polisario 23 Jan fired four rockets at UN-monitored Guerguerat Buffer Strip – where Moroccan troops have been deployed since Nov – and next day threatened to escalate military operations. Polisario 19 Jan said it was ready to join UN-led talks on territory’s future, but would not lay down arms; UN-led negotiations involving Morocco and Polisario, with Algeria and Mauritania as observers, suspended since March 2019. Rumours of possible appointment of former Romanian PM Petre Roman as new UN envoy for Western Sahara drew criticism from Algerian media; notably, newspaper El Watan repeatedly decried him as Rabat’s ally. Following U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in Dec, Algeria 9 Jan said it expected U.S. to exercise “impartiality” in conflict; 17-18 Jan held large-scale military exercise in Tindouf area, near border with Morocco and Western Sahara territory, in apparent warning to Morocco not to pursue elements of Polisario inside Algeria. 

December 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Morocco scored major diplomatic victory in battle over disputed Western Sahara while low-level violence continued. U.S. President Trump 10 Dec announced U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as part of deal under which Morocco agreed to resume diplomatic relations with Israel (see Morocco). Polisario Front independence movement same day condemned U.S. stance on Western Sahara as “blatant violation” of international law, said Trump “attributes to Morocco something which does not belong [to it]”. Algerian govt 12 Dec rejected U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, said it undermined efforts to end decades-long conflict (see Algeria). U.S. Sec State Pompeo 24 Dec launched process to open consulate in Western Saharan city of Dakhla. Meanwhile, Polisario throughout month continued to shell Moroccan defensive positions along East-West sand berm that separates Moroccan-controlled Western Saharan territory from Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic-controlled territory; no significant damages reported.

November 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Decades-old ceasefire between Morocco and pro-independence Polisario Front collapsed, sparking concerns that long-frozen conflict could reignite. Around 1,000 Moroccan soldiers 13 Nov moved into UN-monitored Guerguerat Buffer Strip in Western Sahara, in violation of 1991 ceasefire agreement, with Moroccan govt reporting that troops had successfully secured key road to Guerguerat border crossing point with Mauritania, which supporters of Polisario Front had blockaded since 21 Oct, and set about building new sand berm to protect Guerguerat road. Polisario Front same day accused Moroccan security forces of shooting at civilians who had been “demonstrating peacefully” and declared end of ceasefire and resumption of hostilities. Moroccan govt immediately denied allegations and reiterated its commitment to ceasefire. In following days, Polisario troops targeted various military posts along East-West sand berm that separates Moroccan-controlled Western Saharan territory from Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic-controlled territory; death toll unknown. UN mission in Western Sahara 16 Nov confirmed opposing sides exchanged fire in previous days. Low-scale violence persisted throughout late-Nov.

April 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

UN Security Council 9 April adopted resolution on Western Sahara peace process following closed-door meeting, reiterating previous resolutions’ commitment to negotiations. Prior to meeting, Polisario Front independence movement requested Security Council address absence of UN special envoy for Western Sahara; post vacant since Horst Köhler resigned in May 2019. Polisario’s UN representative Sidi Mohamed Omar 18 April said UN process is in “total paralysis”.

March 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Liberia 12 March became latest country to open consulate to Morocco in Laayoune city in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara prompting Polisario Front independence movement to strongly condemn Morocco’s policy of “fait accompli”.

February 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Israeli journalist Barak Ravid 3 Feb revealed that negotiations were ongoing between Morocco, Israel and U.S. over normalisation of Morocco-Israel relations and U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara.

January 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Following Côte d’Ivoire in June and Comoros in Dec, Gambia, Guinea, Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe opened consulates to Morocco in Dakhla and Laayoune in Western Sahara in Jan, thereby recognising Morocco’s claims over territory. Polisario Front independence movement, ruling party of self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), condemned moves and asked African Union (AU) to intervene. Morocco’s parliament adopted two laws integrating waters off coast of Western Sahara into its maritime space 22 Jan; Polisario rejected move as lacking legal effect. SADR representative to AU, Lamin Baali and AU Peace and Security Commissioner Smaïl Chergui met in Addis Ababa 26 Jan, discussed “respect of international legality” in disputed territory.

December 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Leader of Polisario Front independence movement Brahim Ghali 16 Dec denounced UN’s inability to end diplomatic stalemate over disputed territory, as young Sahrawis increased pressure on Polisario leadership to end status quo. After Moroccan parliament’s foreign affairs committee 16 Dec approved two bills extending Rabat’s maritime boundaries over Western Sahara’s territorial water, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) 18 Dec said move was “null and void”. Polisario Front renewed confidence in Brahim Ghali as secretary general with 86.10% of votes during its fiftieth congress in Tifariti 19-23 Dec.

November 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

After UN Security Council 30 Oct renewed mandate of UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for twelve months, Polisario Front independence movement expressed disappointment, calling move “serious blow to the political momentum that the Security Council built and maintained over the past eighteen months”, and threatened to ‘‘reconsider its engagement in the UN peace process’’.

October 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

UN Security Council renewed mandate of UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for twelve months, as position of UN special envoy remained unfilled more than four months after former envoy Horst Köhler resigned. Initially UN Security Council members considered approving technical extension of MINURSO’s mandate for a few months, but France and U.S. 26 Oct presented resolution to extend it by one year, which Council passed 30 Oct. Morocco reportedly imposed series of preconditions for appointment, while Polisario Front independence movement allegedly threatened to suspend its participation in any diplomatic initiative until UN names new envoy.

September 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

As position of UN special envoy remained unfilled three months after former envoy Horst Köhler resigned, leader of Polisario Front independence movement Brahim Ghali 13 Sept sent letter to current president of UN Security Council, Russian permanent representative at UN, calling for urgent appointment of new special envoy, saying delay has paralysed peace process.

July 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Moroccan security forces 19 July intervened to disperse residents in Laayoune celebrating Algeria’s victory in football tournament, killing one civilian; Polisario Front independence movement called on UN to launch international investigation and on EU to intervene, and sent complaint to UN Security Council. Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali late July reportedly said he would make military service compulsory in Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf in neighbouring Algeria in preparation for “inevitable war” with Morocco.

June 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

In city of Smara, Moroccan security forces 6 June prevented residents from celebrating release of Sahrawi journalist Salah Lebsir after four years in prison, reportedly assaulting sympathisers. Polisario Front independence movement 8 June sent official complaint to UN, urged independent monitoring of human rights in disputed territory. At UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva 25 June, Middle Eastern and African countries reiterated support for Morocco’s Western Sahara Autonomy proposal.

May 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

UN envoy for Western Sahara Horst Köhler resigned 22 May, reportedly for health reasons. Senior official in Polisario Front independence movement said Köhler resigned because of political pressure, notably from France at UN Security Council.

April 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Moroccan FM Bourita 17 April reiterated that Morocco would only accept Western Sahara to have autonomy, rejecting calls by Polisario Front for referendum on independence. UN Security Council 30 April renewed mandate of UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for additional six months until 31 Oct.

March 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Morocco and Polisario Front independence movement 21-22 March held second round of talks under UN auspices in Geneva, in presence of Algeria and Mauritania. UN envoy for Western Sahara Horst Köhler said parties had agreed to continue discussions, but there was “still a lot of work ahead”.

February 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

After direct talks between Morocco and independence movement Polisario Front resumed in early Dec for first time in six years, second round planned for March offers opportunity to advance negotiations over status of Western Sahara. UN envoy for Western Sahara Horst Köhler mid-Feb said he planned to convene second round of talks in March. European Parliament 12 Feb voted in favour of new fisheries partnership between EU and Morocco that Polisario Front, European Court of Justice, European MPs and NGOs have criticised for including waters off Western Sahara.

January 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

European Parliament 16 Jan voted to extend preferential tariffs to Western Sahara as part of EU-Morocco trade agreement, despite 2016 ruling by EU Court of Justice that no trade agreement could cover Western Sahara unless inhabitants of territory consented to it. UN Envoy for Western Sahara Horst Köhler late Jan said he planned new round of talks between Morocco and Polisario Front independence movement in March. Polisario Front 29 Jan said there was “window of opportunity” to resolve conflict.

December 2018

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Morocco and Polisario Front independence movement 5-6 Dec resumed direct talks under UN auspices in Geneva, first time in six years; agreed to hold another meeting in first quarter of 2019.

November 2018

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

UN Security Council 31 Oct renewed mandate of UN mission MINURSO for six months instead of one year to pressure parties into resuming talks ahead of roundtable meeting between Morocco, Polisario Front independence movement, Algeria and Mauritania under UN auspices planned for 5-6 Dec in Geneva.

October 2018

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Polisario Front independence movement accepted UN Envoy for Western Sahara Horst Köhler’s Sept invitation to discuss next steps in peace process in Geneva early Dec. UN Security Council to vote on renewal of UN mission MINURSO 31 Oct.

July 2018

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

EU’s General Court 19 July ruled that territory of Western Sahara and its adjacent waters do not fall under Moroccan sovereignty, confirming rulings of European Court of Justice. Morocco and EU 24 July signed new fisheries agreement: EU to give Morocco €52mn per year for allowing boats from EU to fish in Morocco’s waters, including waters off Western Sahara; Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) said deal “encourages the Moroccan occupation” of Western Sahara and “European Commission is accomplice to this robbery”. Polisario Front independence movement’s dissident wing Khatt al-Shahid early July sent letter to African Union contesting SADR’s claim to be sole representative of Sahrawi people, denouncing human rights violations by security forces during crackdown on protesters taking part in sit-in 16 June in Tindouf refugee camps after political activist died in prison early June.

June 2018

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

European Commission 11 June presented proposed amendments to EU’s association agreement with Morocco aimed at aligning it with Dec 2016 European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that no EU trade or association agreements with Morocco could be applied to Western Sahara. Polisario Front independence movement said European Commission’s consultation process with Morocco did not involve any representatives of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and 15 June filed complaint at ECJ. UN Envoy for Western Sahara Horst Köhler held new round of talks in Morocco and Algeria 23 June-1 July to push for return to negotiations over disputed territory.

May 2018

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara

Polisario Front independence movement 20 May held military parades in Tifariti area east of separation wall to mark its 45th anniversary; Morocco condemned move as “provocation” and “violation of ceasefire”, and said it had alerted UN. UN 19 May called on parties to avoid action “which may constitute a change to the status quo”. Morocco cut ties with Iran 1 May, accusing Tehran and allied Lebanese Shiite movement Hizbollah of training and providing advanced weaponry to Polisario Front, and 14 May said Algeria supported Hizbollah in backing Polisario Front.

April 2018

Middle East & North Africa

Western Sahara