Fighting is on-going between Moroccan military forces and the Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro).
On November 16th and 17th, clashes are continuing along the security wall in the disputed area.
King Mohammed VI said the military operation by Morocco’s army had enabled trade to resume through the strategic border post at El Guergarat that had been blockaded by supporters of the pro-independence Polisario Front.
Morocco “has redressed the situation, settled the problem definitively and restored the flow of trade,” the monarch told United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, according to a royal statement, issued on November 16th.
While authorities would continue to support UN efforts to reach “a realistic and achievable solution” for the conflict, those efforts must ensure the territory stays under Moroccan sovereignty, the king said.
The hostilities began after Rabat sent troops to reopen a highway linking Morocco, the Western Sahara and Mauritania that was occupied by protesters.
Polisario, in response, vowed to intensify its attack, and it claims that Morocco defaulted on the three-decade-old agreement and is backed by neighboring Algeria.
“There is just no feasible way to prevent a full return to war,” the group’s envoy to Europe, Oubi Bouchraya Bachir, said. “The cease-fire is over once and for all.”
For the past three weeks leading up to November 13th, dozens of Sahrawi protesters had blocked the Guerguerat border crossing, cutting trade and traffic between Morocco and Mauritania to the south.
They were demanding Morocco close a road in the U.N.-patrolled buffer zone and calling for the release of political prisoners.
Rabat’s reaction was that it deployed a brigade of 1,000 men accompanied by 200 vehicles to the region, violating the terms of the ceasefire.
In response, Polisario said that it would stop adhering to the ceasefire and declared war on Morocco.
This deployment took place hours after US Major General Andrew Rohling met in Agadir with Lieutenant General Belkhir El Farouk, Commander of the Southern Zone of Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces, which includes occupied Western Sahara.
“War has started, the Moroccan side has liquidated the ceasefire,” senior Polisario official Mohamed Salem Ould Salek said.
Sidi Omar, the Polisario Front’s representative to the U.N., said of Rabat’s action:
“For us, it is an open war.” The Sahara Press Service claimed Polisario had launched attacks for five consecutive days against the Royal Moroccan Army in the Western Sahara, “causing loss of lives and equipment and disrupting its military plans.”
In an official statement, King Mohammed VI warned that Morocco “remains firmly determined to react, with the greatest severity, and in self-defence, against any threat to its security.”
International organizations, as well as separate states are urging for hostilities to end.
The secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, and the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki, expressed their grave concern over the conflict, with Faki stating:
“The Saharan issue has gone on for a long time and it has become urgent to solve it as a case of decolonization in the first place, and to support the UN efforts in this regard.”
The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, stated that the EU was supporting the efforts of the United Nations to find a peaceful settlement for the conflict, in accordance with the Security Council resolutions, and stressing on the insurance of freedom of movement in Guerguerat.
The secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Yousef Al-Othaimeen, and the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Nayef bin Falah Al-Hajraf, stated that they support Morocco’s efforts to what they called “securing freedom of civil and commercial movement.”
Bahrain, Central African Republic, Comoros, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Yemen (the Saudi-controlled Hadi government) and the United Arab Emirates voiced their support for Morocco, while Guyana withdrew its recognition of the SADR.
Egypt, Mauritania, Russia, and Spain have all urged both parties to respect the ceasefire.
South Africa and Algeria, which back the Polisario Front, accused Morocco of violating the ceasefire and urged the UN to appoint a new Western Sahara envoy to restart talks.
Algeria also sent 60 tons of food and medical aid to the refugees in Western Sahara. In addition, Spain’s second deputy prime minister Pablo Iglesias Turrión, and Venezuela have stated that they supported the right to self-determination of the Sahrawis.
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