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Western Sahara independence movement ends ceasefire with Morocco

The leader of pro-independence group, Polisario Front, in the Western Sahara declared war on Morocco last week following border confrontation. 

The announcement came a day after Morocco reportedly launched a military operation in a United Nations buffer zone after accusing the pro-independence group of blocking access to Mauritania. 

Tensions in the region date back to 1975 when Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish protectorate that was previously occupied by Mauritania. For years, the Polisario fought for independence from Morocco in an armed resistance that lasted until 1991, ending after the United Nations negotiated an armistice. 

The truce was negotiated with the understanding that a referendum would be held to decide whether the people of Western Sahara would choose independence or integration with Morocco. The referendum has not taken place yet, mostly because both sides cannot settle on who makes up the Indigenous people of there territory and should therefore be permitted to participate in the vote. 

The hostility has worsened instability in major African countries with a protracted war in Libya, insurgency in Mali and an armed conflict in Ethiopia. 

The conflict has left 80 percent of the disputed territory under Moroccan control. 

Last Friday, Morocco and the Polisario Front exchanged fire but neither party confirmed any deaths or injuries, or specify how many combatants were involved. However, the pro-independence groups accuses Morocco of having shot at peaceful protestors. 

The secretary general of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, issued a decree announcing that the “resumption of armed struggle in defence of the legitimate rights of our people.”

The end to the cease-fire threatens to unleash simmering tensions between the Moroccan kingdom and the liberation movement that have been building.

The escalating tensions recently have caused concern among the United Nations, the African Union, and countries in North Africa and the Middle East.  United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, said that he was “determined to do everything possible to remove all obstacles to the resumption of the political process” in a statement. 

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