OPINION: The end of a 30-year ceasefire between Morocco and the Algeria-based Polisario Front, which is fighting for the disputed territory of Western Sahara to be an independent state, will heighten concerns about growing insecurity in gas-rich north-west Africa.
Western Sahara separatists — ethnic Saharawis — claimed that Morocco, which has occupied the disputed territory since 1975, has invaded a buffer zone and has launched attacks on peacefully demonstrating civilians.
Morocco claimed it is deploying a security cordon after the Saharawis — with support from the Polisario — blocked traffic on the only road linking it with Mauritania that, together with southern neighbour Senegal, is home to tens of trillions of cubic feet of offshore gas resources operated by BP.
Morocco controls about two-thirds of Western Sahara but because the road passes into a Saharawi-controlled area, the Polisario sees it as trying to extend Rabat’s influence in the disputed territory.
As a result of what its claims are Moroccan military attacks, the Polisario has declared the ceasefire is over and that it is “at war” with Morocco.
The opening of a potential battlefront in Western Sahara, some 700 kilometres by road north of BP’s Greater Tortue Ahmeyim gas project on the Mauritania-Senegal border, is a concern.
There are already worries that Islamist militias active in the Sahel, particularly Mali, pose a danger to what could be multiple oil and gas projects off Senegal and Mauritania.
The Western Sahara situation — potentially with the involvement of Iran-backed Hezbollah — adds to an already potent cocktail of threats.
(This is an Upstream opinion article.)