Diplomats have struggled to broker negotiations over the disputed territory of Western Sahara since late 2020, when a ceasefire between Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front broke down. If it steps up its engagement, Washington may be able to get the ball rolling.
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.
We're seeing a diplomatic war [over Western Sahara], where both sides [Algeria and Morocco] are resorting to anything short of open conflict.
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.
Hugh Pope is joined by North Africa experts Intissar Fakir and Riccardo Fabiani to ask whether Morocco holds a winning hand in its conflict with the pro-independence Polisario Front in Western Sahara as Europe looks on timidly, wary of direct challenges to the regional power.
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.
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.
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