Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in 2019. Photo: Stefano Montesi - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images
The pro-independence Polisario Front in Western Sahara has ended a 30-year-old ceasefire with Morocco, reigniting one of the world’s most frozen conflicts.
Tensions rose over the past weeks in the United Nations-designated "buffer-zone," following accusations of breaching the three decade-long truce from both sides.
"We have declared a full-scale war against the occupiers [Morocco] of the West Sahara. The Moroccan military has breached the terms of the peace deal many times, and we have reached a point of no return. We'll continue with our armed struggle until the international community intervenes and provides an immediate and final solution to the issue." Dr Sidi Omar, the representative of the Polisario Front at the UN, told VICE World News.
"People in West Sahara had enough of the games played by the Moroccan government not honouring the terms agreed in the 1991 deal, and to hold a referendum the following year on the fate of our people, which has never happened."
Western Sahara, home to the Sahrawi nomadic ethnic group, is a disputed territory home to over a half a million people on the Atlantic Ocean coastline stretching between Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria. Around 80 percent of the territory is administered by Morocco under the supervision of the UN peacekeeping mission.
The Polisario Front fought against Spain and declared independence under the name of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976, but this was soon followed by a war against the Moroccan military for over 16 years, ending in 1991’s UN-brokered ceasefire.
Tens of thousands had to flee the conflict, and now live under harsh conditions in refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria.
Minor clashes have taken place over the past years alongside the 2,700km long berm – a wall mostly built out of sand that separates Moroccan administered Western Sahara from the rest of the territory.
On Friday, Rabat's government announced a "military operation" to put "an end to the state of obstruction resulting from these movements and re-establish freedom of civil and commercial movement." Meanwhile, a group of Sahrawi civilians and activists have been gathered near the town of Guerguerat, in the southwest corner of Western Sahara, since October, blocking the only road connecting Morocco to Mauritania and the rest of Africa.
Brahim Ghali, the president of SADR, has signed a decree declaring war. He accused Morocco of "igniting war," and wrote in a letter to the UN that the recent escalations "seriously undermined not only the ceasefire and related military agreements but also any chances of achieving a peaceful and lasting solution to the decolonization question of Western Sahara."
The UN has already made "multiple initiatives to avoid an escalation," UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.
"The secretary-general remains committed to doing his utmost to avoid the collapse of the ceasefire that has been in place since Sept. 6, 1991, and he is determined to do everything possible to remove all obstacles to the resumption of the peace process,” Dujarric added.
CORRECTION 17/11/20: This article originally said the protests in Guerguerat were in response to a Moroccan military operation, but the protests have been ongoing since October. We have updated the story and regret the error.