Western Sahara, Morocco clear-cut conflict escalation

BY: Hana Saada

Western Sahara, Morocco clear-cut conflict escalation

PEJOURNAL – In a flagrant and deliberate violation of the Ceasefire agreement signed between the two parties to the conflict in Western Sahara (Frente POLISARIO and Morocco) in 1991, the Moroccan occupation forces opened, on Friday, three new breaches in the Moroccan military wall of shame with a view to attacking the peaceful Sahrawi protesters who are protesting peacefully in Guerguerat.

In this aspect, the Moroccan Armed Forces sent military forces through three routes east of the illegal breach in Guerguerat to Sahrawi civilians who were demonstrating peacefully in the areas since October 21 against the illegal breach created by Morocco in the berm, that was built with the help of the Israeli Zionist Regime in the eighties.

In response to this flagrant attack, the forces of the Saharawi People’s Liberation Army responded, appropriately, to the Moroccan military aggression in this border region.

According to Sahrawi media sources, an exchange of fire took place between the two sides, as the Sahrawi army forces responded to secure the area and evacuate unarmed civilians.

For their part, hundreds of Sahrawi youths gathered, this morning, in front of the headquarters of the Sahrawi Ministry of National Defense, in response to the call of national duty to join the ranks of the Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army. In addition, massive demonstrations took place, highlighting the imperative to return to the armed struggle in order to snatch the legitimate rights of the Sahrawi people to independence.

For three weeks, all eyes have been fixed on El Guerguarat, a crossing point located in the extreme southwest of occupied Western Sahara, which during the 1990s, was a hotbed for smugglers and drug traffickers. Champion of the “fait accompli” policy, Morocco’s Rabat has transformed the breach into a border post of paramount importance for its exports to Mauritania and the countries of West Africa.

The breach opened in the sand wall is considered as a transgression of military agreement No. 1, signed on December 24, 1997, between General Burand Lubenik for the Minurso and Brahim Ghali for the Polisario Front, on the one hand, and between the UN mission and Morocco on January 22, 1998, on the other hand.

The agreement defines the area between El Guerguarat in occupied Western Sahara territory and the Mauritanian border as a “buffer stripe”. Five km wide, it separates two restricted zones.

The first of 30 km under occupation of Morocco and the second of 25 km, under the control of the Polisario Front, the sole legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people.

Beyond that, there are two other restricted areas separated by the wall, one in the west under Moroccan occupation and the other in the east under the control of the Polisario Front. The deal confines Moroccans inside the wall of sand.

In August 2016, Morocco decided to asphalt the five km of the buffer zone of El Guerguarat up to the Mauritanian border, right in the center of the demilitarized zone.

The goal was to make truck traffic smoother following complaints from drivers. Officially, Rabat argued, at the time, that the aim of this move was to “fight  against smuggling, terrorism and drug trafficking”.

Basing on the international law, the Moroccan maneuver constituted another violation. Military Accord No. 1 stipulates that access to the buffer zone is prohibited to troops and devices of the Royal Armed Forces and the Polisario Front. However, when Morocco  undertook the asphalting work in 2016, it  used military engineering machinery.

As a reaction, the Saharawi forces responded, energetically, by putting an end to these maneuvers and re-establishing the status quo ante. Opposite, Morocco had deployed units of the royal gendarmerie before their withdrawal in February 2017, under pressure from the United Nations.

Moroccan maneuvers and repeated provocations in this region have become a real threat to the ceasefire agreement concluded under the auspices of the United Nations in September 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front, the sole representative of the peaceful Saharawi people, who remain committed to the principle of resolving this conflict by organizing a self-determination referendum in accordance with international law.

In fact, the international legality is totally incompatible with these provocations, which, unfortunately, benefit from the support of certain Western countries, which have often encouraged Morocco to violate the principle of international legality, by authorizing it to dispose of and plunder the wealth of Western Sahara and infringe the decisions of the European Court of Justice (CJEU).

These provocations also consist of the incitement by Morocco of its allies to continue to irritate the Saharawi people, by opening consulates in the occupied territories, along with the direct and flagrant attempts and threats of violation of the ceasefire agreement.

Western Sahara is a Non-Self-Governing Territory of the UN that lies in the Sahel region bordered by Algeria, Kingdom of Morocco, and Mauritania. This territory is home to the Sahrawis, a collective name for the indigenous peoples living in and around the region. They speak the Hassaniya dialect of Arabic. Similarly, many others also speak Spanish as a second language due to the region’s colonial past.

Their 50-year dispute broke out when the territory was first occupied by Morocco since November 1975, as thousands of Moroccan civilians, flanked by the Moroccan military, crossed into Western Sahara in defiance of Spain, which ruled the region since 1884, a step denounced by most countries and institutions, including the International Court of Justice which stated, few days before, that there was no “legal tie of territorial sovereignty between Western Sahara and the Moroccan State”.

According to Adala UK, on the 6th of November 1975, Morocco organized what it called a “Green March” to officially invade the North of Western Sahara moving 350,000 Moroccan settlers to the territory. This occupation coincided with the termination of the Spanish status as Administrative Power, creating a vacuum which imposed on the UN to assume its responsibility there.

Subsequently, the United Nations Security Council called on Morocco to withdraw from the territory; however, its effort was in vain. It was obvious that Morocco was violating not only the UN Charter’s principles, such as abstention from “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”, but also the African Union Constitutive Act’s sacred principle of “respect of borders existing on achievement of independence”.

The International Court of Justice’s opinion of 1975 indicated, also, that the native Sahrawi people of Western Sahara are the only sovereign power in Western Sahara. It also considered that it “has not found legal ties of such a nature as might affect the application of resolution 1514 (XV) in the decolonization of Western Sahara and, in particular, of the principle of self-determination through the free and genuine expression of the will of the peoples of the Territory.” (para. 129, 162) (Adala UK).

This status quo did not please the Sahrawi people; in response to the Moroccan occupation, they mobilized for armed struggle under the leadership of the Polisario Front, the successor of the liberation movement of Seguia el-Hamra and Oued ed-Dahab of Mohammed Bassiri, created on May 10, 1973. This Frente has been recognized by the UN General Assembly Resolution 34/37 of 1979 as the sole legitimate representative of the Saharawi people.

Years later, precisely in 1991, the warring parties concluded a ceasefire agreement, culminating in the establishment of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which is assuming its responsibility till nowadays.

Despite a cease-fire in 1991 that put an end to the armed combat, Western Sahara remains a disputed territory. Nowadays, Morocco controls parts of the territory. However, the United Nations refers to Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory and maintains a stance favoring self-determination for its people.

UN body is attaching great interests to the Sahrawi cause, expressing willingness to find a solution ensuring the self-determination of the Sahrawi people, in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the Council.  Several important judicial decisions concerning Western Sahara have been issued to assure Sahrawi’s full right to self-determination. To wit; Resolution 1514 of December 14, 1960, also known as the “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples” amplifies the anti-colonial struggles of peoples and their full sovereignty.

The declaration states: “Subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination, and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights”.

In December 2016 the European Court of Justice affirmed that a Non-Self-Governing Territory has a separate and distinct status from that of the administering state.

On December, 23rs, 2016, UN General Assembly Resolution 71/103 stated that any economic or other activity that has a negative impact on the interests of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories and on the exercise of their right to self-determination is contrary to the purposes and principles of the Charter” of the United Nations, referring to EU trade agreements with Morocco that includes the Sahrawi territory which has significant phosphate reserves and offshore fishing.

In 2017 the High Court stated that the territory of Western Sahara is Africa’s last colonized territory, vesting control of the natural resources of Western Sahara in the Saharawi people.

However, and according to President of the Sahrawi Petroleum and Mining Authority, Ghali Zbeir, Morocco has been plundering the Sahrawi resources, notably phosphate and fishery products since the beginning of the occupation, with the continuing complicity of certain foreign companies despite the binding ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). He stresses that Moroccan occupation keeps exploiting and exporting the phosphate extracted from the occupied Sahrawi territories, notably from mine Boukraâ, adding that 2.1 million tonnes of phosphate have been exported in 2014 and that 2000 tonnes of phosphate were transported every hour.

Fisheries resources, he continued, are also largely plundered as Western Sahara Coast is one of the world’s richest in fisheries resources.

Among other resources plundered, the Sahrawi official mentioned renewable energies. With the help of foreign companies, especially from France and Italy, Morocco built solar and wind power plants, which produce and export energy to Morocco. The German Investment Bank contributes to the financing of these companies, he said.

For his part, the President of British NGO Adala UK, Sidi Fadel, noted, according to SPS, that “Saharawi resources, which rightly belong to the Saharawi people, cannot be controlled by any foreign country; not Morocco nor the European Union, because Western Sahara’s land does not fall under either of their sovereignty”, referring to a series of policies of illegal means and an agreement that was made without consulting MEPs.

“For 43 years of Moroccan invasion into the region of Western Sahara, Moroccan forces have made more than 250,000 Saharawi citizens abandon their homes and move into neighboring countries, making it the biggest forced displacement in North Africa since 1975. The continued policy of repression and impoverishment of the Saharawi people on their land, which boasts so many riches, has forced a large number of Saharawis to migrate to other parts of the world.

A lack of support for international law from the European Union, alongside the inability of the international community to fulfill the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination, as established by numerous UN resolutions, is another cause of impoverishment and migration for the Saharawis.”

In conclusion, Western Sahara is located in a very sensitive region, affected by a bunch of scourges, including terrorism, cross-border crime, drug dealing, and illegal migration. The failure to achieve a peaceful, just, lasting, realistic and mutually acceptable solution and in respect of international law will likely plunge the North African region into turmoil and total chaos. This solution would, also, allow the Sahal region to coordinate its efforts with a view to launching intensive programs of economic and social investments in the border zones that lack development in addition to stronger coordination in terms of security.

To this end, any proposed solution to this clear-cut conflict of decolonization must be discussed, decided and approved by the Sahrawi people and them alone. No other country, organization or entity is entitled to decide over the future of the territory. A free vote in a long-promised referendum on self-determination must be organized under the auspices of both the UN and the AU, in which the people of Western Sahara should make their voice heard. Noting that globally, as of 2019, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic has been recognized by 84 UN member states. Those countries, also, advocate the lasting and mutually acceptable solution that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

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