Morocco and the Polisario Front discuss on CNN who broke the ceasefire first

The permanent representatives of the UN in Morocco and the Polisario Front give various interviews on CNN where they accuse each other of breaking the ceasefire
CNN Sahara

CNN  -   Images from the interview with Omar Hilale in the British programme International Connect the World

During yesterday's British programme International Connect the World on CNN, Rebeca Anderson interviewed the various permanent representatives of the United Nations both from Morocco, Omar Hilale, and from the Polisario Front, Sidi Omar.

On Friday 6 November, coinciding with the 45th anniversary of the Green March, Sahrawi demonstrators cut off the passage between Morocco and Mauritania in the demilitarised zone of Guerguerat, considered part of the liberated territory of Western Sahara.

Demonstrations of this kind are repeated every year at this time to remind the Alaouite kingdom and the international community that the conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front has not yet been resolved.  

The Polisario Front wishes to recall that, despite Morocco's administration of the so-called "southern provinces", there are over 170,000 refugees waiting for a diplomatic solution in the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria.

This conflict is being monitored by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), which since 2010, following Morocco's refusal to accept any census for the vote, has been watching over respect for human rights within the provinces controlled by Morocco.

Omar Halali
CNN - Images from the interview with Omar Hilale in the British programme International Connect the World

During this year 2020, the demonstrations have gone further. The roadblocks prevented the commercial movement of trucks from Morocco to Mauritania and vice versa. Therefore, Morocco mobilised its army towards Gueguerat to clear the area of demonstrators. This was considered by the Polisario Front as a break in the ceasefire signed in 1991, and since then the Saharawi army has been attacking various Moroccan defence positions.

The demands of the Polisario Front remain the same as 29 years ago: to hold a referendum of self-determination for the Saharawi people. Yesterday, in the interview of CNN, the Moroccan representative for the UN, Omar Hilale, stated that "the referendum of self-determination of Western Sahara has been dead and buried for many years and there is no way to revive the death".

From New York, Hilale recalled that MINURSO itself had made two calls to the Polisario Front to ask them to stop the fighting: "from the United Nations they have asked them to stop the offensive, to clear Guerguerat and to maintain the status of 'demilitarised zone' of this area".

For the time being, Morocco is waiting for the Polisario Front to heed the UN. "Morocco has decided not to answer the Polisario Front's fire during these ten days of fighting because it is time for diplomacy; we are going to wait for the Polisario Front to heed the two calls made to it by the United Nations," Hilale explained to the British journalist after confirming that no civilians have been injured.

Sidi Omar ONU
CNN - Images from the interview with Sidi Omar in the British programme International Connect the World

On the other hand, the Polisario Front representative at the United Nations, Sidi Omar, explained in another interview for CNN that "we have been trying to put pressure on Morocco to sit down and negotiate with us for 45 years. Ending the ceasefire was the only option to call them to sit down at the table and discuss the referendum again", the Sahrawi representative stressed.

Since the ceasefire in 1991, the Sahrawi people and the Polisario Front have advocated diplomatic channels. But since 2008, when the hope of holding a referendum began to fade, rumours and comments of a return to armed confrontation have become increasingly strong.

"We have been waiting for the referendum for almost 30 years, we have maintained a peaceful position against the Moroccan occupation and we have no more options. We want Morocco to stop occupying our territory and leave us free to develop our country, Western Sahara", reiterated Omar.

In response to these statements, the Moroccan UN representative accused the Polisario Front of constantly creating propaganda. In principle, for Morocco, the ceasefire has not been broken. "You will not find any statement from Morocco that considers that the ceasefire has been broken, the Polisario Front has to stick to the political process sponsored by the United Nations", Hilale explained to CNN.

"What is the political solution Morocco is offering to this conflict", Anderson asked just after the Moroccan representative's refusal to accept armed clashes. "There is only one political solution: autonomy for the Sahara as part of Morocco. This solution was proposed in 2008 as a serious resolution and has been discussed on several occasions", answered Hilale.

Entrevista Marruecos CNN
CNN - Images from the interview with Omar Hilale in the British programme International Connect the World

But this possibility has not been accepted by the Polisario Front which wants to form its own state independent of Morocco. "Nothing exists outside this political possibility", Halali reiterates. "When one of the parties breaks the ceasefire and begins to shoot, there is no place for it at the negotiating table", the Moroccan representative insists.

Finally, speaking of King Mohammed VI, Halali acknowledged that "Morocco will resume military operations in the buffer zone in response to the Polisario Front", but his intentions are to resume the political process, as the Alaouite monarch has reiterated on many occasions over the past two weeks. "We will not go to war, but we will defend our civilians and our territory", concluded the Moroccan representative.

The war in Western Sahara was triggered when Spain withdrew from the territory as a colonising power in 1975. Initially, the administration of the territory was to go to the Sahrawi people, following in the footsteps of the decolonisation processes that had taken place throughout the African continent. 

But the Spanish government, in view of its rejection of the Saharan independence movements that had attacked the administration during the last years of colonisation, made a pact with Morocco and Mauritania to divide the territory and cede it to these neighbouring countries. This pact is known as the Madrid Tripartite Agreements.

The news of the division of Western Sahara did not please the Polisario Front, which launched a war against Morocco and Mauritania in 1975. Mauritania's southern neighbour withdrew in 1979 and Morocco and the Polisario Front ended up signing a ceasefire in 1991. By then, Morocco had built a wall more than 2,700 kilometres long dividing the war front in two.

Ejército Saharaui
CNN - Images of the Saharawi army deployed in Guerguerat during the interview of Omar Hilale for the British programme International Connect the World

Since then both sides have sat down to negotiate a peaceful resolution. The talks have stalled as Morocco refuses to hold a referendum on self-determination and the Polisario Front does not accept the idea of Moroccan autonomy. 

Spain, the territory's former colonising power, has left any kind of resolution that can be implemented to the United Nations, though the Polisario Front never tires of repeating that "in the eyes of international law, Spain continues to be the administering power of the Western Sahara now occupied by Morocco". 

The foreign minister, Arantxa González Laya, has repeated to the media over the past few weeks that it will be the United Nations that will be responsible for putting an end to this conflict and that Spain has little to say in this whole affair.

Meanwhile, 45 years have already passed in which the international community has mainly supported Morocco, which has great commercial and defence influence in the Sahel area that connects with Europe through the Mediterranean.