UN to Hold Talks Between Morocco and Rebel Group

United Nations spokesman Eduardo del Buey announced today that the UN plans to host negotiations between Western Sahara rebels, the Polisario Front and the Moroccan government from March 11 through March 13. Representatives from Algeria and Mauritania will also be present at the talks which are scheduled to be held at the Greentree estate on Long Island.

The Polisario Front  is a Sahrawi rebel group whose main goal is to achieve independence for the Western Sahara. Conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front began in 1975 when Morocco moved into the Western Sahara after the Spanish colonisers left. After Spain’s withdrawal, Morocco took over Saguia El Hamra while Mauritania took control of Rio De Oro. The Algeria-backed Polisario Front then proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic on February 27, 1976, and waged a guerrilla war against both Morocco and Mauritania.

Disputed Region of the Western Sahara

For the next two years, the Polisario Front movement grew tremendously as Sahrawi refugees continued flocking to the camps and Algeria and Libya supplied arms and funding. The rebel army expanded to several thousand armed fighters.  The rebel army began to acquire more advanced weapons and increase their firepower. Camels where replaced by modern Jeeps and 19th-century muskets were replaced by assault weapons. The reorganized army was able to inflict severe damage through guerilla-style hit-and-run attacks against opposing forces in Western Sahara and in Morocco and Mauritania.

Coat of arms of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

In 1991 the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front agreed to a ceasefire but still have not resolved their differences. In April 2007, the government of Morocco suggested that a self-governing entity, the Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs take control and govern the area with some degree of autonomy from the Moroccan State. The Polisario front desiring full independence, drafted their own proposal to the United Nations. The stalemate caused the UN Security Council to request that both parties enter in direct negotiations to reach, “a mutually acceptable political situation.” The two sides are yet to resolve their differences with Morocco continuing to offer autonomy while the Polisario Front calls for full independence. Hopefully, renewed talks will allow the two sides to come to an agreement about the status of the Western Sahara. I believe, however, that it is unlikely that either side will be eager to make concessions. No progress has been made in 20 years so I feel that it is unlikely that the coming debates will drastically change the current situation in the region.

Separated families meet up again during a family visit in Western Sahara. Photo: UNHCR/S.Hopper

A Sahrawi woman walks in the desert near the Western Sahara refugee camp in Tindouf, Algeria (AFP/File, Dominique Faget)

Sources
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One thought on “UN to Hold Talks Between Morocco and Rebel Group

  1. US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton is currently in Morocco. During her two day visit she will meet with Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane to renew her support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for the Sahara. On multiple occasions, Clinton has described Morocco’s autonomy proposal as “serious, credible and realistic.”

    The support of US diplomacy and Congress is a great leap forward for settlement of the Western Sahara dispute. Perhaps pressure from the United States will help mediate tensions between the Polisario Front and the Government of Morocco. It is about time that the two sides come to an agreement.

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