Edith M. Lederer
October 04, 2016 - 4:37 PM
The Polisario Front independence movement warned Tuesday that it is closer to resuming confrontation with Morocco over the disputed Western Sahara than to peace.
Ould Salek, the movement's foreign relations chief, urgently appealed to the U.N. Security Council to hold the referendum on the future of Western Sahara promised in a 1991 cease-fire agreement with Morocco.
He accused France, which has close ties to Morocco, of blocking council action on Western Sahara and expressed hope that the United States and the other permanent council members — Russia, China and Britain — will do more than they have to ensure a referendum is held.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975 and fought the Polisario Front. The U.N. brokered a cease-fire in 1991 and established a peacekeeping mission to monitor it and help prepare a referendum on the territory's future, which has never taken place.
Morocco considers Western Sahara its "southern provinces" and has proposed wide-ranging autonomy, but the Polisario Front insists on self-determination through a referendum. Salek said the Security Council has a "moral and legal obligation" to hold a referendum.
He said "the situation remains very tense, very dangerous" in the buffer strip in southwestern Western Sahara where Moroccan armed security personnel have been facing Polisario fighters since mid-August.
"Anything can start the confrontation," Salek warned.
A confidential U.N. document obtained by The Associated Press in late August said Morocco violated the 1991 cease-fire agreement by sending armed personnel into the area without prior notice to U.N. peacekeepers. It said the Polisario Front deployed its fighters in response, also in violation of the cease-fire.
The note from the U.N. peacekeeping department to the Security Council said Morocco "was conducting what it maintained to be clearance of damaged vehicles in order to reduce the capacity of smugglers to operate, along with road laying activities" in the southern part of Western Sahara.
Salek reiterated the Polisario Front's strong opposition to the new road "in the occupied territory."
He said the Security Council doesn't want to see confrontation but seems to be promoting it by insisting on a mutually acceptable solution.
"Which other solution we can find?," Salek asked. "The solution of referendum is the only solution of a decolonization process."
News from © The Associated Press, 2016