- According to press reports in Spain, the government and army of Morocco are making preparations for a military attack on the territories controlled by Western Sahara's Polisario Front since a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991. The alleged "preparations" are to be a reaction to the increased civilian activities by Polisario in its "liberated territories".
The Spanish electronic daily 'El Imparcial' reports that Moroccan King Mohamed VI and his army are supervising several military preparations that probably aim to enable the Moroccan Army to conquer the Sahrawi liberated territories. These territories, separated from Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara by a mined wall, are controlled by Polisario and its exiled Sahrawi government.
The paper claims that many intelligence services had noticed Moroccan military movements that could be considered preparations for a new military adventure. Fighting between Morocco and Polisario started in 1976, with the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, and ended with a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991. Around one third of mostly uninhabited Saharawi lands - the interior part bordering Algeria and Mauritania - were left on Polisario's hands.
UN peacekeepers and diplomats have noted a growing irritation among Moroccan leaders over Polisario's increased use of its "liberated territories". Polisario is based in the Algerian refugee camps, where most of the Sahrawi population has lived since the late 1970s.
Lately, however, Polisario has started holding many political and media meetings in Tifariti, the only town in the liberated territories, which was deserted after Moroccan chemical weapon attacks in the late 1980s. At this moment, Polisario is organising large celebrations of its 35th anniversary in Tifariti, including many international guests. These celebrations have strongly provoked Moroccan officials.
According to reports in 'El Imparcial', the Rabat government had started war preparations by pensioning off 30 Islamist officers that may constitute a hinder for such operations. Further, it had deployed troops in the south of Morocco that would be ready to comply with the order of crossing the borders.
The paper claims to have information saying that, when Morocco has conquered these new territories, a new wall would be raised on the international borders between Sahara, Algeria and Mauritania. In this way, Sahrawis would be confined to the refugee camps in the Algerian desert.
Needless to say, such an attack would trigger fighting between Moroccan troops and Polisario. It could also involve troops from Algeria, Polisario's principal ally, which would be unwilling to let the balance of power in the region tip towards archrival Morocco. UN peacekeepers stationed in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara would not have a mandate to take measures. An attack would mean the end of the 1991 ceasefire and would probably lead to a withdrawal of the UN mission altogether.
The reports in 'El Imparcial' could not be confirmed by other sources, but speculations of this kind are not unique.
Lately speculations about an end to the ceasefire have steadily increased. Both Morocco and Polisario are increasingly frustrated about the status quo. Polisario has been promised a referendum over independence since 1991, but Moroccan hardliner policies by now have squashed all hopes of such a solution. Moroccan authorities have become clearer and clearer on their rejection of the 1991 peace terms, and negotiated solutions increasingly seem impossible.
Both sides therefore have increasingly turned to war rhetoric, indicating that war preparations indeed may be going on.
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