MADRID – A high-ranking member of the Polisario Front seeking independence for Western Sahara warned Tuesday that war is possible for the disputed territory annexed by Morocco if the U.N. Security Council fails to set a self-determination referendum timetable.
Bachir Mustafa Sayed told reporters in Madrid that it’s not enough for the Security Council to simply restore the peacekeeping mission’s role of monitoring a cease-fire between the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front. Morocco expelled most of the mission last month and has proposed autonomy for Western Sahara.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recommended extending the mission’s mandate until April 30, 2017 and the Security Council is expected to vote Thursday. It has called for the mission to continue but is divided on the way ahead.
Sayed, minister counselor for Polisario Front Secretary-General Mohammad Abdulaziz, made the comments after Ban’s report last week warned that the expulsion of U.N. peacekeeping mission’s civilian staff will likely be exploited by “terrorist and radical elements” and could lead to full-scale war.
Sayed downplayed speculation that Algerian support for Western Sahara independence could wane if the health of longtime Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika deteriorates. The 79-year-old leader suffered a stroke in 2013, only rarely makes televised appearances and is always seen in a wheelchair. He was in Geneva this week for medical tests.
“The Algerians have reaffirmed that they are on the side of the Saharans in any situation,” Sayed said.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975 and considers it as its “southern provinces.” The Moroccan government has proposed wide-ranging autonomy for the region, but the Polisario Front insists on self-determination through a referendum for the local population — as called for in U.N. resolutions.
Morocco expelled most U.N. civilian staff last month after Ban used the word “occupation” to refer to the situation in the region following a visit to a camp for Western Sahara refugees in Algeria.