CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, an early warning 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. Entries dating back to 2003 provide easily searchable conflict histories.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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