Has Spain switched gear on the Western Sahara conflict?
Spain appeared to have switched gear on its long-time policy regarding the Western Sahara conflict when it called Tuesday for a U.N. committee to evaluate the security situation in the Polisario-controlled refugee camps in Tindouf and probe possible corruption in the distribution of international aid there.
“We have asked the United Nations to send a mission to Algeria to assess the security situation in the camps of Tindouf,” Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez told reporter after talks in Rabat with her Moroccan counterpart Taieb Fassi Fihri, Al Arabiya reported.
The statement by Jimenez came two days after two Spanish aid workers and one Italian were kidnapped by suspected al-Qaeda members in Tindouf, which is under the control of Polisario Front, which seeks the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco. Polisario has been largely supported by Algeria, Spain and Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya.
Algeria has reportedly deployed both ground and air forces in an “urgent” operation along its borders with Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Libya to prevent the escape of the kidnappers.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975 and it has since become the subject of a dispute with the Polisario Front backed by Algeria, where many Sahrawis live in refugee camps.
Morocco has warned several times of suspected cooperation in arms and drug smuggling between al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Polisario Front. Both Algeria and the Polisario have dismissed the Moroccan claims as sheer propaganda. Spain supports the secessionist movement, but often in a way that does not outrage its southern neighbor, Morocco, with which it enjoys strong economic and security ties.
Possible corruption in the distribution of international aid or ties with terror groups or drugs or weapons smuggling networks operating in the Sahara within the refugees camps controlled by the Polisario will likely deal a major blow to the movement’s quest for independence from Morocco.