Polisario Quits Western Sahara 30-Year Cease-Fire After Clashes

The Polisario Front, which is seeking independence for Western Sahara, said it attacked Moroccan forces at a southwestern border post shortly after ditching a three-decade cease-fire, in a show of resolve to force a vote on the disputed territory’s fate.

There was no independent confirmation of the attacks. Morocco officials said the crossing had already reopened.

“A barrage of fire caused damage to lives and equipment” in Moroccan military bases and facilities in the Baggari area, Polisario’s National Liberation Army said in a statement carried by their newswire, Sahrawi Press Service. Rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns were also used in attacks on Mhabes and El Guergarat, the border post, it added.

The announcements came shortly after Polisario leader Brahim Ghali ordered preparations for a “state of war.”

The long-frozen conflict erupted on Friday as Morocco attempted to end a trade blockade by the region’s independence movement, triggering the first major clashes since the United Nations brokered a cease-fire agreement around 30 years ago.

Moroccan officials couldn’t immediately be reached to comment on Polisario’s attack claims. After announcing that the El Guergarat border post was secured and ready for business, the officials have been advocating for appeasement and a return to normalcy, saying Morocco abides by the cease-fire.

State news agency MAP said late Saturday that international trade via El Guergarat has resumed in both directions. Morocco keeps a tight grip on protests and reporting visits to the territory, a majority of which falls under its control.

Stretching along the Atlantic coast and rich in minerals, Western Sahara is larger than the U.K. and has been bitterly contested since its 1975 annexation by Morocco after the withdrawal of ex-colonial power Spain. Sporadic fighting between Morocco and Polisario claimed about 9,000 lives over 16 years.

A referendum on self-determination for the overall territory, part of the UN deal, has been continually delayed, mainly due to disputes over who would be eligible to vote.

Morocco, which saw anemic economic growth even before the Covid-19 pandemic, has pumped investment into the territory and plans a $1 billion port project.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.