Western Sahara

  1. US plans to open consulate in Western Sahara

    BBC World Service

    : A woman wearing a mask displays the Saharawi flag during the demonstration in San Sebastian.

    US and Moroccan officials have had talks in Western Sahara on plans to open an American consulate in the disputed territory.

    The visit by the US envoy, David Schenker, follows President Trump's controversial decision last month to recognise Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara - where the indigenous Sahrawi people want a state of their own.

    Mr Trump's move overturned America's longstanding, neutral position on the dispute, and was part of a deal in which Morocco agreed to re-establish relations with Israel.

  2. Saharawi nationalists condemn US-Morocco pact

    A soldier in front of a Saharawi flag

    The US decision to recognise Morocco's claim over the disputed Western Sahara region has angered the territory's Polisario Front, whose spokesman told BBC Focus on Africa it was a "dangerous setback".

    "Sovereignty over Western Sahara is a decision that should be taken exclusively by the Saharawi people through a genuine expression of their will," said spokesman Oubi Bouchraya Bachi, adding "it doesn’t belong to the US" or any other power.

    Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco in 1975. A 16-year-long insurgency ended with a UN-brokered truce in 1991 and the promise of a referendum on independence, which has yet to take place.

    The Polisario Front is a nationalist group backed by Algeria which has been seeking to establish an independent state - a claim recognised by the African Union.

    The announcement by outgoing US President Donald Trump comes weeks after hostilities between Moroccan and Polisario forces resumed, breaking almost three decades of ceasefire.

    The deal is part of a wider agreement between the US and Morocco that sees it normalise relations with Israel.

    "We have been warning that importing the Middle East dynamic to North Africa will engender a lot of instability," Mr Bachi said of the US-Morocco pact.

    "We are very hopeful the new administration [in the US] will take a different step," he added.

    Listen to full interview on the Africa Today podcast.

  3. Morocco has been 'restrained' in Western Sahara

    There has been tension recently in Western Sahara following military manoeuvres in the former demilitarised zone of Guerguerat.

    The Polisario Front, which wants independence, says that a 29 year-long ceasefire agreement was broken when Moroccan forces deployed troops and tanks to the UN-patrolled border zone in the disputed territory.

    In a statement issued on Tuesday, Polisario said the Moroccan operation was a premeditated attempt to prevent the latest efforts by the UN to discuss their demands.

    The Saharawi people, many of whom live in refugee camps in Tindouf in Algeria as well as within Morocco, have long called for a referendum on self-determination.

    Lotfi Bouchaara, Morocco's ambassador to Moscow, told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that Morocco did not breach the ceasefire but its military was responding to a provocation by Polisario fighters who blocked a key road to Mauritania.

    Morocco had reacted with "restraint", he said.

    "War is always a bad solution... we are ready to engage, we are committed to the political process," he added.

    Listen to the full interview:

    Video content

    Video caption: Lotfi Bouchaara, Morocco's ambassador to Moscow talks about the latest clashes
  4. Western Sahara: Why has fighting returned to north-west Africa?

    Video content

    Video caption: The Polisario Front says Morocco has broken a 30-year ceasefire, sparking a return to war

    The Polisario Front says Morocco has broken a 30-year ceasefire, sparking a return to war.

  5. Gunfire continues in Western Sahara buffer zone

    Thousands of Saharawis arrive from all over Spain to demand the end of Morocco's occupation in Western Sahara
    Image caption: Western Sahara has been the subject of a long-running territorial dispute

    Gunfire has continued along the disputed buffer zone between Morocco and the area held by the pro-independence Polisario Front in Western Sahara this week.

    UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Tuesday said the peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara (Minurso) "continues to receive reports of shots being fired during the night at various locations”.

    The Polisario said its fighters "inflicted human and material losses" in attacks along the front on Tuesday, but there was no independent confirmation, the AFP news agency reports.

    Sidi Omar, the Polisario’s ambassador to the UN, said the actions of the Moroccan forces had reignited a war after 30 years of a ceasefire.

    "The situation now is a state of war, both parties are engaged militarily along the Moroccan military wall and the shelling, firing continues," he told the BBC NewsDay programme.

    The flare-up started last Friday when Moroccan troops launched an operation to open a highway through the Western Sahara to Mauritania.

    A ceasefire agreement between Morocco and the Polisario Front has lasted since 1991, keeping both sides behind a 2,700 km (1,700 mile) buffer zone sown with an estimated seven million landmines.

    More about Western Sahara:

  6. Polisario says Moroccan military has broken ceasefire

    BBC World Service

    Map of Western Sahara

    The pro-independence, Polisario Front says a three-decades-old ceasefire in Western Sahara has been ended by a Moroccan military operation in a buffer zone.

    A senior Polisario official said "war had started".

    Earlier Morocco said it intended to clear the main road between Western Sahara and neighbouring Mauritania.

    Polisario supporters have been blocking the highway for weeks.

    Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then it's been the subject of a dispute between the Moroccans and the indigenous people, led by the Polisario Front.

  7. Last 'virus-free' African country reports Covid-19 cases

    Western Sahara has become the final country in Africa to confirm the presence of coronavirus, with four cases recorded there on Thursday.

    The country is recognised by the African Union as its 55th member state, although Morocco claims it is part of its territory.

    There are now more than 750,000 cases of coronavirus in Africa with over 15,000 deaths according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

    All African nations have reported cases and the WHO warns that the numbers are rising in most countries.

    Read more:

  8. Polisario Front condemns Spain over travel warning

    BBC World Service

    The Polisario Front has condemned the Spanish government's warning to its citizens not to travel to Sahawri refugee camps in Algeria.

    The Spanish foreign ministry said the intelligence services had reliable information that an Islamic State group affiliate was planning attacks on Spaniards in the camps around the Algerian city of Tindouf.

    The Polisario Front, which is based in the camps, called the warning unfounded, saying several international aid organisations worked there securely.

    Polisario is recognised by the UN as the representative of the Saharwi people from the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara, who have never accepted assimilation into Morocco.

  9. Morocco severs Iran ties over Western Sahara


    Morocco says it is ending its diplomatic relations with Iran over Tehran's military support for the Western Sahara independence movement, the Polisario Front.

    The Moroccan Foreign Minister, Nasser Bourita said Iran and its ally, the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, were training and arming Polisario fighters.

    He told reporters that Morocco will will expel the Iranian ambassador in Rabat.

    The Iranians are yet to respond to the accusation.

    Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975, and since then it's been locked in a territorial dispute with indigenous Saharawi people - led by the Polisario Front.

    Morocco controls two-thirds of Western Sahara and sees it as part of its historic territory.

    However some, including the UN, see Western Sahara as Africa's last colony.

    A referendum was promised in 1991 but never carried out due to wrangling over who was eligible to vote.

    Thousands of Sahrawi refugees still live in refugee camps in Algeria - some have been there for 40 years.

    Our BBC World Service colleagues recently aired this extraordinary documentary about Saharawi athlete Salah Ameidan, which explores the complexities of living under occupation and in exile: