Algeria, the main backer of the Polisario Front, called Thursday for the withdrawal of Moroccan forces from the Guerguerat buffer zone in Western Sahara to facilitate a settlement to the conflict in the region, after the appointment of a new UN envoy.
On Wednesday, the United Nations appointed 74-year-old Italian, Steffan de Mistura, as the new envoy for Western Sahara, after refusing 12 candidates, either by Morocco or the Polisario Front, since the position became vacant in May 2019.
Algeria announced through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, that it was “carefully monitoring” de Mistura’s appointment and called for the withdrawal of the troops deployed by Morocco at the end of 2020 in the Guerguerat buffer zone in the southernmost part of the territory after a group of Saharan activists had blocked the only route to Mauritania, which the Polisario considers to be illegal.
The Algerian Foreign Ministry spokesman stressed that “the demilitarization of this region is a cornerstone to any credible political process to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict,” as quoted by the official Algeria Press Service (APS).
He stressed that Algeria supports the efforts of the United Nations, and expressed hope that the nomination of a new envoy will lead to “the actual and serious resumption of direct negotiations between the two parties to the conflict, the Kingdom of Morocco and the Polisario Front, with the aim of reaching a solution that guarantees the people of Western Sahara the free and effective practice of their inalienable right to self-determination”.
A decades-old dispute between Morocco and the Polisario Front has been raging over the former Spanish colony, which the United Nations classifies as a “Non-Self-Governing Territory”.
With nearly 80% of the territory of the vast desert region already under its control, Rabat proposes granting it autonomy under its sovereignty.
The Polisario Front calls for a referendum for self-determination under the supervision of the United Nations, which the latter approved by signing the cease-fire agreement between the two belligerents in September 1991.
Relations between Algeria and its western neighbour have deteriorated in recent months, mainly because of the Western Sahara issue. However, relations between the two countries are traditionally complex.
On 24 August, Algeria decided to sever diplomatic relations with Rabat. A month later, it announced the closure of Algerian airspace to all Moroccan civil and military aircraft.