The international debate on the Western Sahara conflict was reopened, after a period of media obscurity, last November when the Polisario Front announced the end of the ceasefire with Morocco, in force since 1991. This escalation of tension had been brewing for some time. The Guerguerat border crossing in the south of Western Sahara has become the point of friction that has sparked a new chapter in this long-standing conflict.
Guerguerat is a vital border crossing point, linking Western Sahara with Mauritania, and forms part of what is known as the non-intervention zone under Military Agreement Number 1, signed by the United Nations (UN) with both Morocco and the Polisario Front. As part of the agreement, there can be no military presence of any kind in this zone.
The Polisario Front had claimed, on several occasions, that Morocco was in breach of the agreement, as there was a military presence in the area. Furthermore, the Alawi kingdom was using this crossing to transfer goods to other African countries, something the Polisario considered illegal. In retaliation, a group of Sahrawi activists decided to block the Guerguerat border crossing. The conflict finally erupted when the Moroccan army launched an operation in the demilitarised zone to unblock the crossing.
As a result of this escalation of tension, the Western Sahara conflict once again became an international media focus. Another decisive event that has served to put the Sahara back in the spotlight has been the US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the region.
Clashes between Morocco and the Polisario Front have been constant since the conflict over the Sahara was reopened. The latest demand comes from the Polisario Front, which has expressed its displeasure at the visit made last week by a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to El Ayoun and Dakhla, in coordination with the Moroccan authorities.
The Polisario Front representative in Europe, Oubi Bouchraya Bachi, in a letter to the president of the ICRC, the Swiss, Peter Maurer, describes this visit as "unacceptable" and "illegal", because it took place "without prior coordination with the Polisario Front and without taking into account the legal status of the Sahara".
"It is surprising to see an institution of the size of the International Red Cross working on the ground with only one party to the conflict, the occupying power, without informing the other party", he lamented in his letter. He demanded "explanations" from the head of the ICRC.
It is not the first time that the Polisario Front has denounced such an event. In 2018, Human Rights Watch made a trip to the Sahara without Polisario's approval, despite the movement's allegations of only collaborating with one of the parties involved in the conflict, with a clear reference to Morocco.