Fears grow of new Western Sahara war

Filed on November 13, 2020
Weapons discovered by Morocco's police in Western Sahara are placed in Laayoune.

(AP file)

Morocco says no clashes occurred and truce still stands; Polisario says Morocco broke 30-year-old ceasefire

The Western Sahara’s Polisario Front group said on Friday that Morocco had broken their ceasefire and “ignited war”, but Rabat denied there had been any armed clashes between the sides and said the three-decade truce remained in place.

The Polisario representative in Europe, Oubi Bechraya, told Reuters there had been military confrontations with the exchange of fire on Friday, adding “we have declared a return to the armed struggle”.

However, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bouriti denied there were clashes, saying the army had only fired warning shots. “Morocco is committed to the ceasefire,” he said.

Tensions between Morocco and the Algeria-backed independence movement have been growing in recent weeks, with pro-Polisario protesters blocking the main road linking the territory to neighbouring Mauritania.

The Polisario seeks Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco, which has held the vast desert region since Spain quit in 1974 and regards it as an integral part of its own land.

Blessed with phosphate deposits and rich fishing waters, Western Sahara also provides the only Moroccan land route to the rest of Africa except through Algeria, whose borders with Morocco have been closed for decades.

Morocco said early on Friday it was starting an operation to clear the road in the Guerguerat area and denounced what it called “provocations”.

“Morocco decided to act after giving enough time for the UN to intervene,” Bourita said, adding that Morocco would build a new sand barrier to stop the Polisario from accessing Guerguerat in future.

The Polisario accused Morocco of breaking the 1991 ceasefire which ended years of guerrilla conflict, adding that the group had clashed on Friday with Moroccan forces.

A Moroccan news site, le360, said the army had used anti-tank weaponry to respond to a Polisario attack. Bourita said the army would only use arms in self defence.

Last month the UN Security Council passed resolution 2548 which called for a “realistic, practicable and enduring solution... based on compromise”.

That language was widely seen as calling into doubt any referendum on the territory’s future - a goal long sought by the Polisario and backed by the United Nations in the 1991 ceasefire.

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