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.
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.
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.
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