Rabat – Mauritanian authorities have allegedly deployed their short- and medium-range missiles at their northern border with Morocco.
According to a Mauritanian news website, Zahra Changhit, known for its close ties to the decision-making center in Noukchout, Mauritanian’s President Mohammed Oueld Abdelaziz has ordered the military to be in a state of alert and to deploy missiles towards the Moroccan border.
The Mauritanian move comes as reaction to the decision made by Morocco earlier this week to send a contingent of its Gendarmerie to the region of Guergarate, south of Morocco in the buffer zone between the two countries, to end activities related to smuggling and illegal trade.
These decisions come amid an unprecedented tension between Morocco and Mauritani, since Mauritanian authorities decided to raise their flags on the city of Lagouira, in the southernmost part of the Western Sahara, in southern Morocco.
While Morocco has considered the town of Lagouira part of its territory, it did not exercise direct and effective control of it. Though Morocco has been controlling Lagouira territorial waters, the Mauritanian army was allowed to patrol inside of it.
However, the tacit agreement between the two countries was broken when the Mauritanian army raised its country’s flag on the city last December.
A few days after this decision, Moroccan authorities dispatched a high-level delegation to meet with the Mauritanian President and discuss the status of the city.
The flag raising was followed by a number of decisions that have been perceived as provocative by Moroccans. For example, during the 27th Arab League Summit held last month in Nouakchott, Moroccans were surprised to see that the logo of the summit displayed a Moroccan map without the Sahara.
To add to the tension between the two countries, last Thursday Mauritanian President received Mohammed Khdad, envoy of Polisario leader Brahim Ghali. Following the meeting, the Polisario representative said that Lagouira was a “liberated” territory.
Observers says the Moroccan move to send its Gendarmerie to the buffer zone comes as a reaction to Khdad’s statement. Moroccan authorities fear that Mohammed Oueld Abdelaziz, who has been showing his hostility to the Kingdom in recent years, might cede the town of Lagouira to the Polisario.
Since Mohammed Oueld Abdelaziz’s ascension to power in 2009, relations between Morocco and Mauritania have been going through their darkest period in recent decades: there has been no Mauritanian ambassador in Rabat for the past few years, and the country’s diplomatic presence in Morocco has been reduced to its lowest level ever.
Despite Morocco’s efforts to ease the tension, the Mauritanian president has provided no valid reason for his continued refusal to appoint a new ambassador to Rabat.