CAIRO – The leader of a pro-independence group in Western Sahara declared war in Morocco on Saturday, threatening a three-decade truce and full-blown military conflict in the disputed desert region in northwest Africa is.
The day after the announcement, Morocco had launched a military operation in the UN-patrolled buffer zone, accusing the pro-independence group, the Polisario Front, of blocking access to neighboring Mauritania.
The explosion of hostilities in Western Sahara increases instability in some of Africa’s largest countries, a protracted war in Libya, prolonged militancy in Mali, and the threat of civil war in Ethiopia.
On Friday, Morocco said it had maintained a “security cordon” on an important road connecting the country to Mauritania, which the Polisario deems illegal as the independence group says it built in violation of the 1991 UN-Brocade Trace had gone.
Both sides said late Friday that they had exchanged fire but did not confirm any deaths or injuries. Nor did he specify how many fighters were involved in each side.
The Polisario Front accused Morocco of firing on peaceful protesters, whom the independence group said were demonstrating against the Saharavi people looting resources, living in the Western Sahara – under the UN’s peace mission All disputed areas.
Polisario Front Secretary General Brahim Gali issued a proclamation, “To resume armed struggle in defense of the legitimate rights of our people.”
Moroccan officials had no immediate reaction to the announcement.
The decision to end the commitment to a cease-fire, which had defined the conflict for decades, is now a threat to stem the long-standing tension between Morocco’s state and the liberation movement.
After the withdrawal of Spanish colonial authorities, a large area occupied by Western Sahara, Morocco, was captured in 1975. Polisario, a socialist guerrilla movement formed in 1973, waged a war for independence and established the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which was recognized by institutions including the African Union.
The United Nations had helped to conduct an arbitration in 1991, with the understanding that a referendum would be held to decide whether the people of Western Sahara would choose independence or integration with Morocco. The referendum has not yet taken place, mostly because the two sides cannot compromise on who makes up the indigenous people of the region and therefore should be allowed to participate in the vote.
The conflict has left Morocco about 80 percent of the disputed territory, leaving thousands of millennials living in a displaced position near the Algerian city of Tindouf.
Over the years, talks between the two sides have been distracted, with some observers expressing concern that terrorist groups may reduce stability further and further into the vast desert in the region. The talks have basically stalled since 2019, after the former UN special envoy resigned citing health reasons.
The rising tension in recent times has caused concerns from the United Nations, African Union and countries in North Africa and the Middle East. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement on Friday that he was “determined to do everything possible to remove all obstacles to the restoration of the political process.”