Making sense of recent tension in Western Sahara

The tension between Morocco and the Polisario has reached a boiling point following Rabat’s decision to send armed security personnel to the Guerguerat region at the Morocco-Mauritania border.

On August 15, Moroccan authorities announced that they had sent 10 security forces to fight drug trafficking and smuggling of all kinds of goods.

Polisario reacted immediately by sending two letters to the United Nations Secretary-General accusing Morocco of violating the 1991 ceasefire agreement, which ended the 16-year war between Morocco and the Algerian-backed movement.

The UN mission in the Western Sahara, known as MINURSO, said after a preliminary investigation that Rabat had not violated the ceasefire. Still, Polisario sent armed troops and posted them 200 metres from Morocco’s gendarmerie.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement on August 28 expressing concern over the current tension “as a result of changes in the status quo and the introduction of armed units from Morocco and the Polisario in close proximity to each other”.

Ban’s statement was made on the assumption that Morocco had introduced its military into the region.

This assumption was reinforced when the Associated Press published a document submitted to the Security Council accusing both parties of violating the ceasefire.

The “confidential” document said the operation Morocco conducted “was initiated without prior notice to MINURSO, contrary to requirements specified in Military Agreement No 1 of the ceasefire, and with the support of armed security personnel from the Royal Moroccan Gendarmerie”.

Following a government cabinet meeting on August 30, Rabat refuted Polisario’s allegations. Communication Minister and Government Spokesperson, Mustapha Khalfi, said the operation “takes place because of the danger of insecurity in this region which is witnessing the prevalence of drug trafficking and trade and other illicit practices”. Khalfi added that the operation will continue “in coordination with MINURSO”.

The discrepancy between the statement issued by the UN chief and Morocco’s announcement that it will continue the “cleanup” operation shows not only a clear gap in the definition of what constitutes the Moroccan army, but also that the UN may have been subjected to pressure and manipulation from the Polisario and its supporters.


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