As Morocco convinces a growing number of countries of its legitimate position onWestern Sahara, the separatist front is sharpening its counteroffensive.
Rabat – The Polisario Front, the separatist militant group claiming an independent state in Western Sahara, has launched a cyber warfare operation against Cote d’Ivoire. The move is in response to the West African country’s support for Morocco’s claims over the disputed region.
In its June 28 edition, Casablanca-based newspaper Assabah cited “well informed sources” who have discovered the activities of a branch of the separatist front tasked with using the internet to undermine and pre-empt Morocco’s actions to gain international support for its Western agenda.
According to the newspaper, Cote d’Ivoire has been the recurrent target of a wave of online messages and threats to intimate the country into tempering its bold support for the Moroccan side. So far this week, a stream of fake messages and sensational pro-Polisario coverage of the Western Sahara crisis flooded Ivorian sites and social media, according to Assabah.
The messages are reportedly meant to spark debates on the situation in Western Sahara and subsequently “monitor comments from [Ivorian] internet users.”
The ultimate goal is to “wage a psychological warfare to pressure countries” into adopting a pro-Polisario line. Assabah’s sources noted that the cyber campaign is being orchestrated by pro-Polisario “high tech experts” established in France, Algeria, and the Canary Islands.
Interestingly, though, the campaign’s “supervisor” is said to be a “young Moroccan” living in Guelmim, in Southern Morocco. His role is to coordinate the Polisario Front’s cyber unit living mostly in Algeria, France, and Spain. The unit’s members received training in state-of-the-art collage and video editing techniques from Spanish experts.
The choice of Cote d’Ivoire is not coincidental.
While Morocco has garnered considerable international support for its Western Sahara position in recent years, the West African country recently brought its pro-Morocco support to the highest possible level by inaugurating an honorary consulate in Laayoune.
A particularly consequential diplomatic move, opening an official diplomatic representation amounts to a de facto recognition of Morocco’s jurisdiction over Laayoune.
During the inauguration, Idrissa Traore, the Ivorian ambassador to Morocco, was unapologetic about his country’s pro-Morocco stance. “Ivory Coast has been and always will be with Morocco. For us, peace will come through the respect of Morocco’s territorial integrity,” Traore stressed.
Polisario’s official response was just as blunt. The front castigated the Ivorian government and called for continental action to compel the Western African country to reconsider its move. It described the move as a “clear violation of the rules of international law” and urged the African Union to call on the Ivorian government to “respect the exceptional status of Western Sahara.”
As well as a reprisal against Cote d’Ivoire’s recognition of the Laayoune province as part of Moroccan territory, Polisario’s cyber campaign is also meant as a deterrent for other countries that may be considering a decision similar to Cote d’Ivoire’s. If the West African country is the first to open diplomatic representation in Laayoune, many other countries have tacitly buttressed Morocco’s sovereignty over the region.
In November of last year, a group of African ambassadors who paid a brief working visit to the region, hailed Morocco’s efforts in “rapidly transforming” the city with noticeable investment into a commercial hub.
“Every time we visit the region we witness considerable improvements,” said Ismaila Nimaga, ambassador of the Central African Republic to Rabat. The diplomat said he was in awe of the region’s “rapid transformations… which bear witness to Morocco’s diverse development efforts.”