On Tuesday, the Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) announced its 20th day of the offensive, launching attacks on “Moroccan occupation soldiers entrenched behind along the Wall of Shame,” a 1,700-mile sand barrier built by the Moroccan military that divides areas occupied by Morocco and those controlled by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario).
Also on Tuesday, as South Africa assumed the monthly rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council, Jerry Matjila, Johannesburg’s permanent UN representative, used the moment to call attention to the conflict in Western Sahara.
“You know, it is almost a year now since [Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General to Western Sahara] Hans Kohler left. So it is like a frozen, a real frozen conflict. There is no political movement because for over a year there is no political envoy to kickstart the development. So, you have twin problems. The end of the ceasefire by Frente Polisario […] and the impasse in appointing the envoy. But I think we are optimistic that secretary-general, who briefed us twice in November, that he tried […] it’s tough, there are no takers,” Matjila said.
“We trust the secretary general will continue his efforts to try to appoint the envoy, and we hope the parties will cease their fire, and then the UN [will] fill its unfulfilled promise to Saharawis - the referendum. The 1991 decision of ceasefire was based [on the idea that in] 1992, 93, there would be a referendum. Thirty years later […] no referendum. I think we should admit, all of us have failed the people of Western Sahara.”
Australian Senator Tim Ayres, a trade unionist and member of the Australian Labour Party, spoke in the Australian legislature about the conflict.
“The presence of military forces in the Guerguerat area and the buffer strip is a clear violation of a military agreement signed by both parties in 1997 and in 1998, as is the firing of weapons over the region,” Ayres said on Tuesday. “A breakdown of the ceasefire in Western Sahara is a threat to both regional and global stability. Already there are concerns about a spillover affecting Mali.”
“I urge the United Nations Security Council to take immediate steps to restore the ceasefire and to organise a resumption of negotiations and a plan to deliver a lasting solution to the conflict in Western Sahara,” Ayres said. “Any resolution must include the right of the people of Western Sahara to choose their own future. Decades of diplomacy have failed to give what was promised to the people of Western Sahara in 1991: a referendum between independence or integration with Morocco. The vote has been delayed several times.”
Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya told El Peridico on Tuesday that Madrid defends the “central role” of the United Nations, comparing the situation to that of Israelis and Palestinians. Gonzalez also called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to appoint an envoy to Western Sahara.
In the United Kingdom, Labour MP Alex Sobel on Tuesday called on the Conservative government to intervene on the behalf of Saharawi political detainees held in Moroccan prisons, including Yahia Mohamed El Hafedh Iza, who were given 15 years in prison in 2008 for organizing a demonstration at which a Moroccan police officer was killed, according to the human rights organization Front Line Defenders.
London-based human rights group Amnesty International noted that since the collapse of the ceasefire, Moroccan police have cracked down on Saharawi activists in cities under Moroccan control, including Laayoune and Boujdour, arresting at least four and besieging the homes of several others.
Last month, the Polisario Front called off the 1991 ceasefire with Morocco, saying Rabat had undermined both the ceasefire and any hope of a peaceful solution to the country’s decades-long occupation of Western Sahara.
The breaking point came in late October as Saharawi activists protested at the El Guerguerat border crossing between Western Sahara and Mauritania, saying the Moroccan military had wrongly militarized the neutral area and was using the border crossing to export raw materials mined in Western Sahara. Moroccan forces eventually dispersed the protesters using violence.
As Sputnik reported, the protests also aimed to draw attention to a failure of MINURSO to protect Saharawi human rights and to spearhead an independence referendum for the territory, which Morocco invaded and occupied in 1975 as the colonial Spanish forces withdrew.