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.
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).
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