Polisario remains in Guerguerat despite UN call

Sunday 05/03/2017
Mounting tension. Moroccan soldiers guarding the wall that separates areas controlled by Morocco and the Polisario Front in February. (AFP)

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.