Morocco pressures UN on Polisario’s incursions

Rabat could act unilaterally if the UN and Algeria fail to stop the Polisario Front from carrying out incursions.
Sunday 08/04/2018
A Polisario Front fighter is seen on the outskirts of Tifariti in the Western Sahara.   (Reuters)
Provocations. A Polisario Front fighter is seen on the outskirts of Tifariti in the Western Sahara. (Reuters)

LAAYOUNE, Morocco - Morocco upped its rhetoric against the United Nations for “failing” to stop the Polisario Front’s incursions into the UN-monitored buffer zone on the Morocco-Mauritania border while the UN Security Council discussed a new mandate for the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita warned that Rabat could act unilaterally if the United Nations and Algeria fail to stop the Polisario Front from carrying out incursions into the buffer zone.

“If the Security Council does not assume its responsibilities, Morocco will assume its own,” Bourita said after a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Moroccan King Mohammed VI expressed Rabat’s determined rejection of Polisario’s provocations and incursions into the buffer zone in a telephone conversation with Guterres, Bourita said.

“Morocco will act firmly against the provocations of the Polisario in the region of Guerguerat and will never allow any change in the status of this area that is an integral part of the national territory and has always experienced a Moroccan presence until 1991,” Bourita said.

Bourita criticised the UN mission for failing to keep the Polisario Front out of the UN-controlled areas of Bir Lehlou and Tifariti.

“The UN response to the Polisario provocations in the Guerguerat region was not strong enough to deter the separatists,” he said.

Moroccan Ambassador to the United Nations Omar Hilale said, in a letter to the Security Council, that Polisario separatists “turned up in military vehicles and have set up tents, dug a ditch and built constructions using sandbags” in the north-eastern Western Sahara town of Mahbes.

The United Nations denied Rabat’s claims that the separatists entered the buffer zones. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the MINURSO mission had not observed movement of military elements in the territory.

Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani insisted that Morocco had proof of the Polisario’s incursions.

“We have evidence that Moroccan localities beyond the defence apparatus have been taken over by the separatists to install pseudo administrations. We will provide this evidence in a timely manner,” said Othmani. He added that nobody has the right to touch a single inch of the “Moroccan Sahara.”

Morocco’s warnings came as the United Nations prepared a report on whether to extend its 27-year-old peacekeeping mission for the disputed territory.

Guterres urged that the Polisario Front withdraw from Guerguerat in the buffer zone in a report to the Security Council. He called on Morocco to reconsider its refusal to send an expert mission as part of the UN effort to address the Guerguerat situation.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975 and maintains it is an integral part of the kingdom. Algeria-backed Polisario Front began an armed conflict with Morocco for an independent state that lasted until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991.

Rabat has proposed a form of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty for the territory. The proposal was rejected by the Polisario Front, which insists on “the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination” in a UN-monitored vote.

Mountacir Zian, director-general of the Mediterranean Company of Analysis and Strategic Intelligence in Rabat, said “the chances of a war are slim but Morocco must be ready for any likely scenario.”

“If we pause a moment to analyse the context in which Morocco decided to threaten the Polisario with armed conflict, we will realise that the region is still far from the brink of a new war over the Sahara,” Samir Bennis, co-founder of Morocco World News, wrote in an opinion piece.

The Polisario Front withdrew from the Guerguerat area a year ago on the eve of the Security Council’s adoption of a resolution endorsing the new peace initiative and renewing MINURSO’s mandate for another year.

“Morocco has to be very firm to stop these repeated incursions and pressure the UN to adopt a tougher resolution on the Polisario Front,” said Zian.

France is to present a draft resolution on MINURSO and a vote is expected in late April.

Guterres said he was encouraged by steps taken by his new personal envoy for Western Sahara, Horst Kohler, to relaunch talks that have been stalled since 2012. Bourita said in March that he had “fruitful” talks with Kohler, who was appointed envoy in August, in Lisbon.

Koehler has met with King Mohammed VI, the presidents of Algeria and Mauritania, Polisario leaders and African Union officials as part of his tour to encourage a restart of talks to end the 42-year-conflict.