A leader of the Polisario Front said on Sunday that the independence movement was mobilizing “thousands of volunteers” to join the Saharawi armed forces on the third day of the crisis between it and Morocco in the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
“Thousands of volunteers are joining the military regions among those who have finished their education,” Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, the head of diplomacy of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), said. The SADR was proclaimed in 1976 by the separatists of the Polisario.
“Hundreds more are swelling the ranks of military schools,” Ould Salek added.
However, he did not provide any details and it was impossible to verify from an independent source the veracity of these claims.
Morocco launched a military operation on Friday in the buffer zone of Guerguerat to reopen the road leading to neighboring Mauritania, after three weeks of road blockage. The road was cleared on Saturday.
In reaction, the Polisario Front declared a “state of war” and the end of the ceasefire signed in 1991 under the aegis of the UN.
– “Strategic region” –
European Union (EU) foreign minister Josep Borrell spoke on Sunday with his Moroccan counterparts Nasser Bourita and Algerian Sabri Boukadoum.
The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs in particular underlined “the paramount importance of ensuring respect for ceasefire agreements”, according to a statement.
The Moroccan foreign minister assured him of his country’s commitment to respect for the ceasefire, he said.
Borrell called for a “rapid resumption” of talks suspended since March 2019 under the leadership of the United Nations and a new UN envoy for Western Sahara.
The previous special envoy, the German Horst Köhler, resigned in May 2019 “for health reasons” and has not been replaced.
The European diplomat also insisted on “the preservation of freedom of movement and cross-border trade” in the Guerguerat area and its significant impact on the entire Maghreb and Sahel region, “a region of strategic importance”.
A vast desert area of 266,000 km2 bordering the Atlantic coast to the north of Mauritania, Western Sahara is the only territory on the African continent whose post-colonial status has not been settled.
After the departure of the Spanish colonial power in 1975, Morocco took control of three quarters of this territory which it considers to be an integral part of the kingdom. Supported by Algeria, the Polisario controls the other third.
Rabat proposes autonomy under its sovereignty while the Polisario demands a self-determination referendum provided for by the 1991 agreement but which has never been implemented.
Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies have provided support to Morocco in the latest crisis, according to press releases relayed by the Moroccan agency MAP.