The UN Security Council on April 27 extended the mandate of the peacekeeping force for Western Sahara (MINURSO) through the end of October 2018, while calling for Morocco and the Polisario Front to finally negotiate an end to the decades‑old conflict. Western Sahara is claimed by Morocco, while the Polisario Front seeks independence for the territory. The territory has since the 1975-1991 war that followed its independence from Spain been divided by a series of sand berms and a "buffer zone." These separate the territory's Morocco-occupied west and a Polisario-controlled eastern strip. The Security Council called for the Polisario Front to immediately withdrawal from the buffer strip around the area of Guerguerat, to refrain from any destabilizing actions. It also expressed concern over Polisario's planned relocation of administrative functions form Tindouf, across the border in Algeria, to Bir Lahlou within Western Sahara, (ReliefWeb, April 27)
In a victory for Berber activists, Algeria officially celebrated Yennayer, the new year holiday of the Amazigh people, for the first time. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said declaration of Yennayer as a national holiday was officially approved at a meeting of his Council of Ministers. Yennayer marks the first day of the agrarian calendar, celebrated by the Berber (Amazigh) people across North Africa on Jan. 12. This Yennayer marks the first day of the year 2968 in the Amazigh calendar, which starts counting from the enthronement of Shoshenq I in Egypt, initiating a Berber-ruled dynasty. The move to recognize Yennayer is part of a general effort by Algeria's government to permit greater expression of Amazigh culture in order to head off a separatist movement, marked by the recent proclamation of a Provisional Government of Kabylia in the country's Berber-majority eastern region.
The latest in an ongoing wave of unclaimed air-strikes in Libya on Feb. 9 hit al-Jufra air base in the interior of the country, which is in the hands of local militia forces. Two were reported killed and several injured, as well as extensive damage to the base. The targeted militias were identified as the Tagrift Brigade and the Saraya Defend Benghazi group. These militias have been targeted before by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, military chief of Libya's unrecognized eastern-based government. (Anadolu Agency, Libya Observer, Feb. 9)
The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights reported Dec. 5 that over the past days some 1,400 migrants, mainly from West Africa, were taken from their homes in Algiers by riot police—including children, pregnant women, asylum-seekers, refugees. Some were injured in the raids, and most were taken to a holding center outside the city. A convoy of 11 buses is already reported to have left Algeirs for Tamanrasset in the south, presumably to expel the detained across the border to Mali. Algerian authorities warned at the end of September that they intended to expel tens of thousands of migrants. Recent weeks have seen clashes in southern Algeria between migrants and local residents. (BBC World Service)
An appeals court in the Algerian city of Setif on Sept. 6 upheld the conviction of Slimane Bouhafs, a man the court says slandered Islam and the Prophet Muhammed. Bouhaf's lawyer claims his client, a Christian convert, only criticized political Islam in a Facebook discussion with non-Algerian Christians. On Aug. 7, the trial court found otherwise, ruling that those Facebook posts were offensive to the prophet, and the appeals court agreed. Now, international human rights groups are calling for Bouhafs' "immediate and unconditional release." Bouhafs faces a five-year prison term.
Algeria has announced plans to build a 120-kilometer wall along its border with Libya, local media sources report. The wall along the 1,000-kilometer border is another step in a list of upgraded security measures Algeria is undertaking to improve its counter-terrorism initiatives. Measuring three metres in height, and lined with barbed wire, the wall is intended curb the movement of ISIS militants and arms smugglers from entering the country. Growing reports of incursions by armed militants and criminals, alongside growing attacks and kidnappings in Algeria's remote south, have spurred calls for construction of the barrier. According to Geoff Porter, president of North Africa Risk Consulting, Algeria seeks to avoid "trespassing on another sovereign territory" by militants and smuggling networks. Tunisia earlier this year completed the first phase of its own separation wall on the Libyan border. (MEM, Sept. 2)
The passing last week of Mohammed Abdelaziz, longtime leader of Western Sahara's Polisario Front, occasioned confusion in media coverage as to the difference between Arabs and Berbers—which is fast becoming a critical issue in the contest over the Moroccan-occupied territory. Most embarrassingly, the New York Times writes: "The Polisario Front was formed in the early 1970s by a group of Sahrawis, indigenous nomadic Berber tribesmen, in opposition to Spain's colonial presence in Western Sahara. When Spain withdrew from the region in 1975, the Sahrawis fought attempts by both Mauritania and Morocco to claim the territory." The Sahrawis are not Berbers. They are Bedouin Arabs who arrived from across the Sahara centuries ago. The Berbers are the actual indigenous people of North Africa, who had been there for many more centuries before that. Ironically, the Times goes on to state: "He was selected as secretary general [of Polisario] in 1976 after the death in combat of the front's military leader, Al Ouali Mustapha Erraqibi. Later that year, he was elected president of the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic."
Tizi Ouzou, principal city in Algeria's restive Kabylia region, saw two mass mobilizations April 20 to commemorate the 1980 "Berber Spring" uprising. One, organized by the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RDC), pressed demands for official recognition of the Amazigh language in Algeria's constitution. But the second, led by the Kabylia Self-Determination Movement (MAK), called for the region's actual independence from Algeria. Each drew thousands, and several arrests were reported. Amazigh was recognized as a "national language" in a 2002 constitutional reform, and second reform earlier this year upgraded it to "official" status, meaning it can be used in government functions. However, Berber activists say that even the new reform maintains Amazigh in a subsidiary position to Arabic.