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Western Sahara’s Polisario cuts ties with Spain over autonomy support

The Polisario independence movement has announced a “break” in contacts with the Spanish government in protest at its U-turn on the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

“The Polisario Front has decided to break contacts with the current Spanish government” over its “instrumentalisation of the Western Sahara question in shameful bargaining with the (Moroccan) occupier”, the movement wrote in a statement on Sunday.

It said the break will last until Madrid “conforms with decisions of international legality, which recognises the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination, and with respect for the borders of their country, as internationally recognised”.

Spain on March 18 said it had agreed to publicly recognise Rabat’s autonomy plan for the territory, ending a decades-long stance of neutrality.

In agreeing to a long-standing Moroccan demand, Spain sought to end a dispute which erupted in April 2021 when it allowed Western Sahara’s independence leader Brahim Ghali to be treated for Covid-19 at a Spanish hospital.

Weeks after Ghali’s hospitalisation, more than 10,000 migrants surged into Spain’s tiny North African enclave of Ceuta as Moroccan border forces looked the other way, in an incident seen as meant to punish Madrid.

Morocco-Spain ties

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI last week hosted Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in a landmark visit sealing their countries’ repaired ties.

Rabat sees the Western Sahara as an integral part of the kingdom and proposes autonomy for the region.

The Polisario waged a long armed struggle for independence from Morocco before reaching a ceasefire in 1991, on the promise of a referendum on self-determination.

The desert territory boasts rich Atlantic fishing waters, phosphate resources and a route to lucrative markets in West Africa.

Bitter rivalry 

Morocco fought a bitter war with the Polisario after Spanish colonial forces withdrew in 1975.

The Algiers-backed Polisario in November 2020 declared a ceasefire in force since 1991 null and void, and it has since stepped up attacks on Moroccan forces.

The escalation came after Moroccan sent in troops to forcibly reopen a highway running through Western Sahara to neighbouring Mauritania.

Spain’s move, widely seen as a victory for Morocco, infuriated its regional rival Algeria, which has long backed the Polisario and also supplies vast quantities of natural gas to Spain.

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