Pro-independent rebels fighting Morocco for Western Sahara said on Saturday that the UN was responsible for “political stalemate” over the disputed territory, on the 45th anniversary of their unilateral declaration of independence.
The Algeria-backed Polisario Front controls about one-fifth of Western Sahara’s large, arid territory and demands a promised UN-led referendum on self-determination.
Morocco has offered autonomy but claims that the territory is a sovereign part of the empire.
“The Polisario Front tried to avoid war for 29 years by making concessions, but it has met with a total lack of cooperation from both the Moroccan side and the UN,” Polisario official Khatri Addouh accused on Saturday, quoted by the official Sahrawi news agency SPS.
The UN is responsible for the “political stalemate” in the Sahrawi issue due to its “laxity” towards Morocco, Addouh was quoted as saying from a Sahrawi refugee camp near the Algerian desert city of Tindouf.
The Polisario fought a war of independence with Morocco from 1975 to 1991, and its leaders proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) on February 27, 1976.
The UN has repeatedly failed to find a lasting solution since it brokered a ceasefire on the 1991 control line.
UN-led negotiations with Morocco and the Polisario, with Algeria and Mauritania as observers, have been suspended since March 2019.
On Saturday in Tindouf, the armed forces of the Polisario marched in a military parade attended by Sahrawi leaders to celebrate the anniversary.
Soldiers marched behind a woman draped in a Sahrawi flag wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus.
‘Continue the fight’
Tensions rose sharply in November when Morocco sent troops to a buffer zone to resume the only route leading from Morocco to Mauritania and the rest of West Africa, after the separatists had blocked the previous month.
Polisario responded by declaring the UN-backed ceasefire invalid, arguing that the road had not existed when the ceasefire was signed and was therefore illegal.
The two sides have since exchanged regular fires along the demarcation line, but claims are difficult to independently verify in the hard-to-reach area.
“The Sahrawi people will continue their fight for justice and to liberate the Sahrawi territory from the Moroccan presence,” Brahim Ghali, president of the self-proclaimed SADR, said on Saturday from the Aousserd refugee camp.
Rabat has won recognition of its claim to sovereignty over the entire disputed territory from many countries that have opened consulates in Western Sahara.
The Polisario considers the opening of the missions to be “a violation of international law and an attack on the legal status of Western Sahara as a non-autonomous territory”.
In December, Morocco normalized ties with Israel in a diplomatic quid pro quo that saw Washington bring back the Moroccan government across Western Sahara, a move that angered the Polisario.
Despite the move, the UN insists that its position on the territory remains “unchanged”.
The Sahrawis hope that US President Joe Biden’s government will review the decision, which they say is “contrary to all decisions and resolutions of all international bodies”.
British territory is home to about one million people.
During a meeting on Thursday with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Ghali, who is also the secretary general of the Polisario, renounced “the silence of the international community” on Western Sahara.
He called on international human rights organizations to go to the former Spanish colony “to protect defenseless Sahrawi citizens”.