Polisario remains in Guerguerat despite UN call
During a telephone call with Guterres, King Mohammed VI urged UN to take urgent measures to end 'provocation' by Polisario Front.
Mounting tension. Moroccan soldiers guarding the wall that separates areas controlled by Morocco and the Polisario Front in February. (AFP)
2017/03/05 Issue: 96 Page: 12
The Arab Weekly
Casablanca - Polisario Front fighters remain in the buffer zone of the Guerguerat region, intimidating Moroccan truck drivers despite the United Nations’ call for unconditional withdrawal.
The Algerian-backed fighters posted videos, one of which depicts a soldier from the so-called Polisario army threatening to “shred” the bodies of Moroccan drivers crossing the buffer zone that separates the border crossing of Guerguerat, which is under Moroccan administration, from the first border crossing in northern Mauritania.
“The bodies of the Berbers will be shredded if they insist again on crossing the region,” threatened the Polisario fighter.
Another video posted on social media showed separatists forcing trucks to return to Morocco if their vehicles displayed a Moroccan map that included the disputed Western Sahara.
Morocco said it would withdraw its security forces from the border strip after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke to Moroccan King Mohammed VI.
“The Kingdom of Morocco will proceed from today with a unilateral withdrawal from the (Guerguerat) zone,” the Moroccan Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
During a telephone call with Guterres, King Mohammed VI urged the United Nations to take urgent measures to end “provocation” by the Polisario Front and condemned “repeated incursions by armed Polisario men” in Guerguerat district that threaten UN-brokered ceasefire.
“These acts took place prematurely a month before Morocco’s return to the African Union, in order to sow discord and try, in vain, to torpedo this process,” the royal cabinet said in a statement.
France, Spain and the United States welcomed Rabat’s announcement of the pullback.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975 and maintains that it is an integral part of the kingdom. The Algeria-backed Polisario Front started an armed conflict with Morocco for an independent state that lasted until a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991.
Guterres called on both parties to unconditionally withdraw all armed elements from the border strip and exercise maximum restraint. While Morocco recalled its forces, Polisario fighters have not pulled back from the buffer zone.
The Polisario Front dismissed Morocco’s decision as “window dressing”, accusing Rabat of blocking a settlement, rejecting negotiations and UN mediation efforts.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz described the situation at Guerguerat as “dangerous and explosive” in an interview broadcast by French satellite news channel France 24.
“The Sahrawis are in the region with their armed forces, which can be dangerous in the presence of soldiers on both sides of the region. This could lead to problems, which we do not wish for the region,” said Ould Abdel Aziz.
Tensions flared between Rabat and the Sahrawi separatists last August after Morocco started building a 3.8km road beyond the 2,500km sand wall that surrounds the 90% of the territory that it controls.
Rabat said then that the road, which could not be completed because of Polisario incursions since December, was aimed at easing the flow of traffic and ending smuggling and illegal trade.
The summer operation resulted in the dismantlement of three assembly points of second-hand bodies of cars and trucks, including more than 600 vehicles, officials in Dakhla-Oued Eddahab prefecture said.
The General Directorate for National Security (DGSN) has announced that more than 3 tonnes of hashish were seized at the Guerguerat border on a semi-trailer registered in Morocco.
The Moroccan driver was arrested after allegedly trying to conceal the drug in bottles of cosmetics destined for export to an African country, said the DGSN.
Morocco’s Royal Gendarmerie has summoned retired soldiers and other reservists to update their information. The timing of the move raised questions, including whether it was connected to the Sahrawi separatists’ actions in the buffer zone, although the information is generally updated every six months.