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Fighting intensifies in occupied Western Sahara as Moroccan autonomy plans rejected

FIGHTING has intensified in Western Sahara with Sahrawi guerilla forces launching a number of attacks on areas held by occupying Moroccan troops. 

Battle continues as a number of countries reject Morocco’s stance on the status of the disputed territory and back the United Nations position on an independence referendum. 

Polisario commandos destroyed a number of military checkpoints belonging to Morocco over the weekend and a number of its positions along the security wall. 

The Sahrawi Ministry of Defence said that its latest offensive has caused “innumerable losses of life and equipment among the ranks of the Moroccan army.”

Battle has ensued in Mahbes, a town occupied by Morocco close to the border with Mauritania and Algeria. 

There has also been fighting in Guelta Zemmur, a region important for resources such as phosphates and fishing.

Conflict has spread to some 170 areas since a 1991 ceasefire agreement broke down after a Moroccan incursion in November 2020.

Portugal and Britain have been the latest countries to reiterate their support for a just and lasting political solution in the region, rejecting Morocco’s autonomy proposal. 

Under the plans, Morocco would maintain sovereignty of Western Sahara and delegate some administrative, legislative and judicial powers to Sahrawis who would “themselves run their affairs democratically.” But the territory would retain the Moroccan flag and currency, while its foreign relations, security and defence would be controlled by Rabat. 

The proposal has been rejected by the Polisario Front, but it gained the official backing of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez last month.

It brought an end to a 15-month diplomatic row over Madrid’s perceived support for the separatists, whose leader Brahim Ghali received medical treatment in Spain last year.

Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco and Mauritania in 1975 after the defeat of Spanish colonisers.

The two nations signed the Madrid Accords with dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 — a week before he died.

The Polisario Front proclaimed the creation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic with a government in exile located in Algeria.

Mauritania withdrew its forces in 1979, but Morocco refused to give up its claim on the land, insisting that Western Sahara was an integral part of the country.

But a United Nations commission of inquiry found that “the majority of the population within the Spanish Sahara was manifestly in favour of independence” and the International Court of Justice delivered a damning verdict rejecting Morocco’s claim of precolonial historical sovereignty.

In 1991, the UN brokered a ceasefire on the basis that Morocco would hold a referendum on independence. But Morocco reneged on the agreement and later promises, instead offering regional autonomy to Africa’s last colony.

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