Western Sahara
Ceasefire in Sahara 'null and void'

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afrol.com, 9 February - The POLISARIO government of Moroccan occupied Western Sahara today stated from Algeria that the 10-year ceasefire with Morocco "is null and void". The POLISARIO announces this after several years of Moroccan playing of time and a statement this week by the Moroccans the government could not see how the UN plan, which includes a referendum in Western Sahara, could be implemented.

According to news reports, the POLISARIO Front official Mohamed Salem Ould Salek today made this statement from Algeria, where most of the Sahrawi people and government is exiled. According to a BBC report, POLISARIO's explanation the announced break of the ceasefire is that "Morocco has consistently blocked moves to hold a democratic poll agreed to an in international treaty." The Sahara referendum was initially planned to have taken place in 1991.

Moroccan Foreign Affairs minister Mohamed Benaissa told the press earlier this week that his government could not see "how the plan," which includes the referendum over the sovereignty of Western Sahara, "could be implemented". 

The UN has tried to implement the referendum, agreed upon by both Morocco and the POLISARIO, for years, but has met resistance on technical details from Morocco, seen as deliberately delaying the process as a victory for the independence movement seemed certain. Morocco has repeatedly tried to introduce new groups of applicants to the referendum. In 1999 alone, Morocco presented some 139,000 appeals against the census proposed by the UN mediators.

The POLISARIO has been frustrated over UN incapacity to make the process go on. The last UN mediator, James Baker III, was at last seen spending all his time in US interior politics and opening for a weakening of former UN resolutions. Baker's only diplomatic initiative, an overall failure, was to set aside UN resolutions on a referendum and make Morocco and the POLISARIO negotiate on alternative settlements, under strong protests form the POLISARIO. The statement of Minister Benaissa, raising further doubt about the implementation of a referendum, was the last straw for the POLISARIO.

POLISARIO speaker Mohamed Salem Ould Salek said "the declaration by the Moroccan government confirms what the POLISARIO officials have said in the past that Morocco will never accept a free and transparent referendum vote." 

The POLISARIO has threatened to take up arms again several times in the past months, the last time being when the Paris-Dakar rally was held over Moroccan-occupied Sahrawi territory last month. Eager diplomatic activity from the UN Secretary-General, the OAU presidency and friendly countries like Algeria and the US managed to change the Sahrawi's minds. 

Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco since 1975, when the Spanish colonial power left the colony without handling power over to a local authority. The POLISARIO had taken up arms to gain independence already two years before, and has since been recognised by many countries, including the UN and the OAU as the legal representation of the Sahrawi people. Most of Western Sahara is occupied by Morocco, although a small zone close to Algeria is in the hands of the POLISARIO. Morocco has settled the country with tens of thousands of Moroccans, while the majority of the Sahrawi population lives in refugee camps around Tindouf in Algeria, the closest ally of the POLISARIO.

The military situation reached equilibrium already before the 10-year-old ceasefire. Walls, minefields and trenches have been put up at the consolidated front. The last years, however, there have been several reports of Moroccan fortifications and preparations for possible new hostilities. If the POLISARIO is to realise the end of the ceasefire, analysts give them little possibilities to break through the frontline. 

At present, Morocco probably is better prepared to take the initiative. On the other side, the so-called peace has not lead anywhere for almost ten years, and the POLISARIO is obliged to make an initiative at this point if it is not going to lose credibility with the estimated 180,000 refugees living mostly in Algeria. The UN will have to put its Sahara initiative on its long list of diplomatic failures.


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