The campaign for Western Saharan independence has suffered another diplomatic blow after the head of the European Parliament’s group on Western Sahara resigned, accusing the pro-independence Frente Polisario of committing ‘a serious strategic error’ by ending a 30-year ceasefire with Morocco.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975, sparking a guerrilla war with Polisario, which claims to represent the people of Western Sahara. The war was ended by a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991.
Morocco still occupies around two-thirds of the territory of Western Sahara and describes it as ‘an integral part’ of its territory.
Both sides have accused each other of breaking the ceasefire. Polisario says Morocco broke the ceasefire when it sent in the army, who then opened fire on civilians, it says, to end a blockade at the border with Mauritania in the Guerguerat region on the night of 12-13 November.
For its part, Rabat contends that the blockade was supported by Polisario militia. Within days, the Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) said it had attacked Moroccan positions.
In his resignation letter, Joachim Schuster, a German Socialist MEP, said that “although there have been several breaches of the ceasefire agreement by Morocco throughout the years, I consider the decision of the Frente Polisario to terminate the ceasefire to be a serious strategic error.”
Morocco government officials had previously complained that the Intergroup, which has no official standing within the Parliament, was biased in favour of Polisario and Schuster, in particular, had been seen as an ally of Polisario.
The chair of the Intergroup is likely to remain with the Socialist group, generally seen as more supportive of the independence movement.
“I do not see how this can promote a solution to the conflict, but rather fear that the conflict will be significantly exacerbated. I do not think this serves the Sahrawi people,” Schuster said.
Schuster’s resignation is the latest diplomatic setback for the Western Sahara independence movement.
While the African Union, which Morocco rejoined in 2017, has maintained its long-standing position that Western Sahara’s future must be decided by a referendum, a prospect that now appears to be more distant than ever before, the United States has changed tack.
Last week, US President Donald Trump recognised Rabat’s claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara, tweeting that “Morocco’s serious, credible and realistic autonomy proposal is the ONLY basis for a just and lasting solution for enduring peace and prosperity!”
Trump’s move followed Morocco’s decision to re-establish relations with Israel last week, making it the fifth member of the Arab League to do so in under three months.
However, Trump’s decision, which marks a significant change in the US’s position, as well as a diplomatic coup for Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, is unlikely to be maintained in full by his successor Joe Biden, who will take over the US presidency on 20 January.
EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has called for a “fast return” to UN-supervised talks, suspended since March last year, and the appointment of a new UN envoy for Western Sahara.
He also expressed “the vital importance of ensuring compliance with the ceasefire agreements”, according to an EU statement, following talks with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita and his Algerian counterpart Sabri Boukadoum last month.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]