The leader of the Western Sahara independence movement says that fighting with Morocco will continue between a long wall cutting through Africa’s vast desert until the international community delivers on an unfulfilled promise of self-determination for the Sahrawi people.
The United Nations considers Western Sahara as Africa’s last territory to be decolonized, but its envoys have failed to set the stage for a referendum on its future since a ceasefire was signed 30 years ago between Morocco, which had annexed it in 1975, and the independence-seeking Polisario Front.
The conflict has received renewed attention with the flaring of violence as a result of growing frustration among the Sahrawi, but also as the United States, late last year disregarded the U.N. efforts by backing Morocco’s sovereignty over the entire disputed territory.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has recently appointed a new special envoy to Western Sahara.
In a rare public appearance following a long convalescence for COVID-19 earlier this year, Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali on Tuesday defended his movement’s decision in Nov. 2020 to call off the 1991 ceasefire.
“There will be neither peace, nor stability, nor a just and lasting solution to the Moroccan-Sahrawi conflict unless the UN Security Council assumes its responsibilities in responding frankly and firmly to the aggressive and expansionist practices of the Moroccan occupying power,” Ghali said in a speech to hundreds of Sahrawis and foreign guests at the Dajla refugee camp, in Algeria’s Tindouf province.
Hostilities have remained at a relatively small scale, although Polisario officials told The Associated Press that at least 8 of its soldiers have died in combat or retreating from attacks launched on Moroccan army positions along the wall.
But the conflict could escalate and destabilize the Northern Africa region, Ghali said in a veiled reference to worsening relations between Morocco and Algeria in recent months.
“The war is already raging on the ground, and its dangers and repercussions on the region cannot be avoided if the United Nations continues to manage the crisis instead of solving it,” Ghali said.
Algeria has sheltered Sahrawi refugees since Rabat’s annexation of their homeland.
The Sahrawi have become a minority in the Moroccan-controlled part of the territory, where authorities have incentivized the establishment of Moroccan settlers.
With a heavy security entail, Ghali was in Dajla to mark the day of Sahrawi unity, which remembers the date when major senior Sahrawi tribal leaders and former members of Spain’s colonial administration backed the Polisario’s struggle for an independent state.
In their constant search for allies, both Morocco and the Polisario have sought to win diplomatic battles in the U.N. and with other stakeholders.
The Biden administration has not carried out actions to make effective on the ground the recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty that former President Donald Trump announced by a tweet at the end of his mandate.
Meanwhile, in Europe, a top EU court recently sided with the Polisario in recognizing that Morocco should not be considered the legitimate party for the bloc to sign fishing and agricultural agreements pertaining to Western Sahara.
In his speech on Tuesday, Ghali accused “countries, companies or others” of engaging with Morocco in business in the disputed territory of supporting “an illegal, aggressive and expansionist operation, and the theft and looting of the wealth of an oppressed and defenseless people.”