Western Sahara “not to be negotiated”. The words of the King of Morocco, Mohammad VI, Saturday, November 6, about this territory, which has been disputed for decades between his country and the Sahrawi separatists backed by Algeria, is unequivocal. Since the summer, tensions between Morocco and Algeria have worsened, reaching a climax on November 1 with the deaths of three truck drivers, caught in a bombing raid, in Western Sahara. Franceinfo takes stock of four issues surrounding this conflict, which has been entrenched for decades between Algeria and Morocco.
1What happened ?
If relations between Algeria and Morocco have been gradually deteriorating for a year, tensions rose after 1 November following the deaths of three Algerian truck drivers caught in a bombing raid on Western Sahara territory.
Algiers accuses Rabat of one “fake assassination attempt”committed “with sophisticated armament (…) while making the Nouakchott-Ouargla connection”, between Mauritania and Algeria, the Algerian presidency said in a statement released Thursday. She also condemned “the extreme seriousness of the State terrorism in question, which no circumstances can justify” and secured it the assassination of these three Algerians will be[it] do not go unpunished “.
Officially, Rabat has still not responded directly to these attacks, TV5 Monde noted on Friday. But unofficially, “If Algeria wants war, Morocco will not have it. Morocco will never be drawn into a spiral of violence and regional destabilization.”responded to AFP -one “informed Moroccan source”. “If Algeria wants to drag the region into war with provocations and threats, Morocco will not follow suit”insisted the same source, who requested anonymity.
2What is the cause of this crisis?
It began on 13 November 2020. Since 1991, a ceasefire has been concluded between Morocco and the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria, which demands the independence of this territory, after sixteen years of conflict. But this ceasefire, which was generally respected for thirty years, was broken. The Moroccan army conducted an operation in the buffer zone at the Guerguerat border post (farthest south) to restore road traffic to Mauritania, cut off by Sahrawi separatists. In response, the Polisario Front declared war.
A month later, tensions escalated when Morocco obtained from US President Donald Trump recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara (recognition, which was confirmed over the summer by Joe Biden, reminiscent of RFI). In return, Morocco has normalized its relations with Israel. Reconciliations seen with a vague view of Algeria, which severed its diplomatic ties with Morocco on August 24 and accused it of supporting the Kabylie Self-Determination Movement (MAK), which Algiers considers a terrorist organization.
Finally, on 31 October, the Algerian president decided to shut down gas in Morocco. However, Algerian gas covers 97% of Moroccan needs, AFP notes. Since 1996, Algeria has sent about 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Spain and Portugal a year via the Gaz Maghreb Europe (GME) gas pipeline, which runs through Morocco. In return for this transit, Rabat received nearly one billion cubic meters of natural gas annually.
3 Why is Western Sahara coveted?
Situated on the Atlantic coast and surrounded by Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria, Western Sahara is a very extensive quasi-desert area (more than 250,000 square kilometers), but attracts greed: it is rich in phosphates and its Atlantic coast is very fishy.
A former Spanish colony, Western Sahara, is the only territory on the African continent whose postcolonial status remains unresolved. The country is considered one “non-autonomous territory” by the UN, in the absence of a final solution. Morocco controls 80% and offers broad self-government under its sovereignty, while the Polisario Front calls for a referendum on self-determination.
In addition to the Moroccan and Algerian borders, the situation in Western Sahara is also closely monitored by Westerners. Their interests “are very important in the region, especially in the fight against terrorismremembers Kader Abderrahim, professor at Sciences Po Paris and specialist in Algeria and Morocco, interviewed by TV5 Monde. An open conflict between these two neighbors would weaken the position of Westerners, Europeans and the United States in the fight against terrorism.
4Could an open conflict break out between the two countries?
For now, “a direct confrontation seems a priori out of the question”says security expert Akram Kharief, founder of the Menadefense site, interviewed by The world. “Algeria will seek to respond to Morocco in an indirect and realistic way instead of engaging in a frontal war”adds in the same daily Jalel Harchaoui, researcher at the Institute of International Relations in Clingendael, in the Netherlands.
On the Moroccan side, Mohammed VI in his speech on Saturday tried to calm things down. “If we enter into negotiations, it is fundamental to reach a peaceful solution to this artificial regional conflict”said the monarch.
On the part of the international community, the UN Security Council has called on the various parties to resume negotiations “without preconditions and in good faith”. These negotiations must be resumed under the leadership of the new UN envoy, the Italian-Swedish Staffan de Mistura, “with a view to reaching a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution” from a perspective “self-determination for the people of Western Sahara”specified on 29 October the UN in a resolution extending by one year the UN mission (Minurso) for the organization of a referendum in Western Sahara.
Men Kader Abderrahim, specialist in Algeria and Morocco interviewed by TV5 Monde, is not so optimistic: “I always thought there would be no open conflict between Morocco and Algeria. I am more measured today”, he analyzes. According to him, “all indicators are red. We are not immune to a landslide that could ignite the region”.