On 29 October, the UN Security Council will vote on the UN mission in Western Sahara’s renewal. Following last year’s resumption of hostilities and the appointment of a new envoy, Council members should signal their commitment to relaunching negotiations and an even-handed approach to the conflict.
Originally published in World Politics Review
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.
The fighting in Western Sahara, which broke out again in November 2020, remains of low intensity. Yet outside powers would be wrong to assume that it will not escalate. With U.S. support, the new UN envoy should pursue confidence-building measures that could facilitate negotiations.
Clashes have broken out in Western Sahara, ending a 30-year ceasefire between Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front. Fighting could intensify absent outside help. The UN should fill its empty special envoy post, while the U.S. leads international efforts to restart diplomacy.
The Western Sahara conflict is both one of the world’s oldest and one of its most neglected.
The combination of Morocco’s recent proposal of a “Sahara autonomous region”, the Polisario Front’s counter-proposal of independence with guarantees for Moroccan interests and the UN Security Council’s 30 April resolution calling for direct negotiations between the parties – due to begin on 18 June – has been hailed as a promising breakthrough in the protracted Western Sahara dispute.
[The US recognition of Rabat’s claim to Western Sahara] will make Sahrawi youths more angry, mobilised and committed to resolving the conflict through force.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Rob Malley and guest host Richard Atwood talk with Dahlia Scheindlin and Crisis Group’s North Africa Project Director Riccardo Fabiani about the normalisation of relations between Israel and Morocco and the accompanying U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
Refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, have long been run by the Polisario movement, which seeks an independent state in Western Sahara, also claimed by Morocco. But a new generation of Sahrawi refugees is growing fractious as aid dwindles and diplomatic efforts fail to deliver a settlement.
Originally published in Al Hayat
Originally published in The Wall Street Journal Europe