“We have been prepared for this for more than 30 years.”
On Saturday, the Polisario Front announced that it would take up arms again, thus breaking with almost three decades of ceasefire with Morocco in Western Sahara, a declaration of war that has no way back, says Salmi Gailani, a member of its youth.
“We have never lowered our guard,” says this young Saharawi living in Spain, who says that “the mistake” of Morocco, the United Nations and the rest of the international community has been to assume that the Polisario Front no longer valued returning to the armed conflict.
Gailani was born in 1991, the same year that the ceasefire agreement was signed, “a generation that has grown up in exile,” he testifies.
His childhood was divided between the Saharawi camps of the Tindouf province, southwest of Algeria, and Spain. Now he says that both for him and for other young Sahrawis living in European countries, the time has come to return and take up arms.
On the other side of the battlefield, Morocco claims not to have begun to lift the trench.
King Mohamed VI assured Monday that his country remains “committed to a ceasefire” in Western Sahara, but warned that it “will react with the utmost severity to any threat to its security.”
The king made these comments in a telephone interview with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, according to a statement from the Moroccan Royal Cabinet.
Because right now?
Salmi Gailani thus explains the “straw that has broken the camel’s back” of 30 years of dormant conflict: for the Polisario Front, she says, it has been an incursion by the Moroccan Army in a delimited area to which neither side has access.
It is the Guerguerat border crossing, which connects southern Western Sahara with Mauritania. A space in which, according to Military Agreement Number 1 signed by both parties with the UN, the access of armed men is not allowed, neither from Morocco, nor from the Polisario Front.
However, Rabat uses this step to transport goods to other African countries. Sahrawi protesters had been blocking it for weeks, when Morocco responded militarily.
Gailiani points directly to the passivity of the United Nations Mission for the Organization of a Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Both for not defending the Saharawi people from Moroccan violations of the ceasefire, and for not having organized in the last 30 years the independence referendum demanded by the Polisario Front. “30 years have been enough to place the ballot boxes”, argues this young Saharawi.
The Spanish Transition and the Saharawi people
Morocco has been occupying Western Sahara since the early 1970s, when the last Spanish soldiers abandoned what was then a Spanish province to their fate.
In 1975 the Court of The Hague, at the request of the UN General Assembly, denied that Morocco or Mauritania had territorial rights over Western Sahara and confirmed the right of self-determination of the Saharawi people.
After the Tripartite Agreement, Morocco and Mauritania divided up Western Sahara, although the latter left the territory in 1979. Then the war between Morocco and the Polisario Front began and the flow of Sahrawi refugees to camps in Tindouf, Algeria.
“The Spanish State has forgotten that the Spanish Transition will not be completed without the independence of the Saharawi people”, Gailiani argues, pointing to the role of Spain in the last open wound the decolonization of Africa.
“I have seen that the Vice President of the Government Pablo Iglesias has tweeted yesterday, I think it was a tweet in which he asked for the fulfillment of the referendum for the Saharawi people, and he forgets that he is vice president of the Spanish State,” he continues.
Gailani wants Spain to recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) to give international legitimacy to his cause. But the position of the Spanish Executive is to “recognize the efforts of the UN Secretary General and within that framework resolve the situation.”
This is how President Pedro Sánchez corrected his Moroccan counterpart when a year ago Saadedín el Otmani thanked him “for Spain’s support for Morocco’s theses on the Sahara.”
Gailiani assures that the Sahrawi youth are not willing to sit down at a negotiating table again, as has already happened in Geneva in the last year.
“A war means pain, death and it means many things that in this case hurt, but we believe that after 30 years it is more than enough to have already exhausted the peaceful ways.”
The official position of Morocco
Euronews has tried unsuccessfully to interview Morocco’s special ambassador to the European Union. Due to scheduling problems, he couldn’t receive our reporters until the end of the month. The King of Morocco, Mohamed VI, has promised before the UN to respect the ceasefire, although he has warned that he will respond with “great severity” against any threat to the security of the country or its citizens.