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As tension eases in Western Sahara conflict, the belligerents stick to their guns

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The North Africa Journal – May 4, 2017: Fighters of the Polisario Front, who are seeking statehood in the Western Sahara, withdrew from a contested area known as Guerguerat, following a unilateral withdrawal of the Moroccan troops a few weeks ago. The removal of armed forces from this small stretch of the Western Sahara Desert appears to be acting as a trust-building initiative, with both sides, including the UN Security Council hoping for a resumption of negotiations on this pointless conflict.  The 15 members of the UN Security Council unanimously endorsed a resolution calling for the resumption of the talks to end the 40-year conflict, and agreed to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to April 30, 2018.

The new UN Chief Guterres appears to be the driving force behind these latest moves, including convincing Morocco and Polisario fighters to cool off. France has also been instrumental in drafting the UN Security Council resolution, aided by the United States and supported by Russia and the United Kingdom.

These steps are important in that they bring some reduction in tension in a region that needs all its available resources to combat terrorism and organized crime. However, this reduction in tension is likely to be temporary as no party thus far signaled any change in their positions. Statements from the two sides already highlight that their position is more noble than then other, in signs that no one is willing to compromise. This is a moment of temporary peace, but that’s all it is.

The North Africa Journal is a leading English-language publication focused on North Africa. The Journal covers primarily the Maghreb region and expands its general coverage to the Sahel, Egypt, and beyond, when events in those regions affect the broader North Africa geography. The Journal does not have any affiliation with any institution and has been independent since its founding in 1996. Our position is to always bring our best analysis of events affecting the region, and remain as neutral as humanly possible. Our coverage is not limited to one single topic, but ranges from economic and political affairs, to security, defense, social and environmental issues. We rely on our full staff analysts and editors to bring you best-in-class analysis. We also work with sister company MEA Risk LLC, to leverage the presence on the ground of a solid network of contributors and experts. Information on MEA Risk can be found at www.MEA-Risk.com.