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Western Sahara: breaking the deadlock

Western Sahara: breaking the deadlock
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There is neither peace nor war in Western Sahara.
The frozen conflict in the former Spanish colony seemed almost forgotten, until violent clashes this week in the city of Laayoune reminded the world that still nothing is settled between Morocco and the Polisario Front independence movement.

The violence broke out on Monday, when Moroccan authorities stormed a tented village.

Casualty figures are disputed by both sides. Morocco said several security personnel have died in the clashes.

The Polisario Front also claimed that numerous civilians had been killed and wounded, and scores had disappeared.

Protesters said they set up camp to demand jobs and better living conditions – but Western Sahara pro-referendum activist in Laayoune Lahcen Dalil told euronews there is even more at stake.

“They (the protesters) want a referendum, that UN makes a referendum for self-determination, because (we have) bad life here in Western Sahara, and that’s why we have no more patience to stay without a solution for the long term,” he said.

In 1975 Morocco sent in 350,000 of its citizens on the so-called ‘Green March’ to cement its annexing of the region. Spain had handed the territory over to Morocco and Mauritania and the Polisario Front began fighting a guerrilla war for independence.

After 16 years, the United Nations brokered a cease-fire in 1991. Since then, zones near the Mauritanian and Algerian border are controlled by the Polisario Front. The north and west of the region are controlled by Morocco.

The truce included the promise of a referendum, but it never materialised. The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic declared by the Polisario Front in 1976 has nevertheless been recognized by many governments and is a full member of the African Union.

Tens of thousands of Sahrawi have been living in refugee camps for decades, while Morocco and the Polisario Front have been negotiating face to face since 2007.

But the conflict remains deadlocked: while the Polisario Front pushes for a vote on full independence Morocco is only prepared to talk about autonomy within the country.