Rabat – A UN message has warned the Polisario Front against obstructing traffic in the buffer zone. The international body particularly reproached the Front’s recent anti-status quo moves in Guerguerat, a town on the Morocco-Mauritania border.
In a message on behalf of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesperson for the UN’s chief diplomat, noted that the UN has received information pointing to Polisario-sponsored movements in the buffer zone, especially in Guerguerat, disturbing traffic at the border.
“Regular civil and commercial traffic shall not be obstructed and no action shall be taken that might constitute an alteration of the status quo in the buffer zone,” said Haq. In an additional cautionary note to the Polisario Front, the UN spokesperson also underlined that it would be in the Front’s interest to restrain from escalating tensions in Guerguerat and elsewhere in the buffer strip.
Recalling that the buffer zone is under strict and constant surveillance by MINURSO, the UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, the UN spokesperson urged the separatist front to show restraint and immediately leave the zone. The tone of the warning, while characteristically diplomatic, suggests that any further deviation from the UN-imposed status quo in the buffer zone will be met in accordance with UN regulations on such matters.
The UN’s warning comes after reports in the Mauritanian press spoke of “unprecedented” moves by Polisario in various areas in the buffer zone.
The reports cited an incident that took place on August 31, when a dozen of Polisario elements reportedly occupied various spots in the buffer area to “disturb commercial and civil traffic” at the Morocco-Mauritania border. It was allegedly a day of “permanent blocking” in Guerguerat.
Meanwhile, there have also been reports that Polisario sympathizers are planning to organize a sit-in in Guerguerat in the coming days to vent their usual frustration and anger against Morocco and its “illegal occupation” of the region.
According to Morocco’s state media, General Abdelfettah Louarak, the Inspector General of the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces (FAR), is currently visiting the buffer area to assess the situation and prepare an eventual Moroccan response to “continued separatist provocations.”
With the prospect of escalations in the air, the suggestion from the FAR senior official’s visit in the zone is that Morocco is poised to react to any further “provocative moves” from the Polisario Front.
As it happens, this is not the first time that the UN has cautioned Polisario against defying the status quo in the buffer zone.
In April 2018, former Special Representative for Western Sahara and head of MINURSO Colin Stewart issued yet another warning against Polisario’s presence and military maneuverings in Guerguerat and elsewhere in the buffer area.
Noting that the UN was highly “preoccupied” by the Front’s constant, defiant presence in the zone, Stewart called on the Polisario leadership to both “immediately retreat but also abstain from any destabilizing moves.”
The latest warning comes amid reports of Polisario’s discontent with the UN-led political process in Western Sahara. Over the past months, statements by the Polisario leadership make ample room for the reading that the separatist front has grown notably frustrated by what it sees as a pro-Morocco political process.
With such a perceptible and brazenly expressed sense of mistrust and wariness, it remains to be seen what the near future holds for the increasingly in-doubt UN’s mediation efforts in Western Sahara’s decades-old stalemate.
However, even as Polisario vents its anger and dismay at the UN-led political process and appears ready to boycott any resolution other than a referendum on self-determination, the overwhelming consensus — and hope — among UN diplomats appears to be that the Front will gradually accept “the new realities on the ground” and eventually embrace the compromise-based political process.
This coming October will see the UN Security Council (UNSC) convene to deliberate on the future of the UN-led process in Western Sahara. As the UNSC prepares to discuss the fate of MINURSO and, by extension, the future of the UN-led peacekeeping and crisis resolution in the long-running territorial dispute, the recent events in the buffer zone have set the stage for yet another thriller at the upcoming meeting.