Polisario’s recent disruptions in the buffer zone prompted responses not only from Sahrawi dignitaries but the UN secretary-general.
Rabat – The regional council of Guelmim-Oued Noun is the latest group of officials in southern Morocco to denounce the Polisario Front’s recent provocations in Western Sahara.
Morocco’s state media reported that the president of the council, Mbaraka Bouaida, said the region’s officials and residents condemn Polisario’s “desperate attempts” to sabotage Morocco’s efforts to resolve the regional dispute and disturb peace in the south.
The council particularly stressed Polisario’s maneuvers in Guerguerat, a town in the buffer zone between Morocco and Mauritania.
In late August, Polisario elements attempted to disturb civil and commercial traffic between Morocco and Mauritania, according to local news reports.
Last month, the UN responded to Polisario’s alleged day of “permanent blocking” in Guerguerat. A deputy spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the separatist front to cease their disruptions and immediately leave the zone.
The Guelmim-Oued Noun regional council said Polisario’s actions seek “to paralyze the commercial and humanitarian movement of Morocco, to hinder freedom of movement and to prejudice the strategic interests of the Kingdom with the States of sub-Saharan Africa.”
To conclude, Mbaraka Bouaida reiterated that the regional council and residents of Guelmim-Oued Noun maintain respect for Morocco’s territorial integrity.
The statement from the Guelmin-Oued Noun regional council follows similar remarks from tribal leaders of the Laayoune-Sakia El Hamra region and officials from the town of Tarfaya, both in southern Morocco.
The Laayoune tribal leaders condemned the Guerguerat disturbances as well as an “anti-occupation” event in Laayoune. The Tarfaya statement similarly denounced the Polisario Front’s “provocations” and “separatist” agenda.
Both statements reiterated the dignitaries’ support for Morocco and its efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Western Sahara question, simultaneously acknowledging King Mohammed VI’s development initiatives in the southern provinces.
UN responds to Polisario
Polisario’s recent disruptions in the buffer zone also prompted a formal response from the UN secretary-general in his annual report on the situation in Western Sahara.
MINURSO, the peacekeeping mission in the region, published the report on October 7.
The document makes clear that Polisario’s latest provocations in Guerguerat were not the first of their kind. The border town is often the site of unlawful activity by the militant group despite being under the MINURSO mandate.
Tensions in the buffer zone rose considerably in early January ahead of the annual Africa Eco Race. The auto rally competition passes through Guerguerat.
The Polisario Front threatened to block the race, as it has in years prior, stoking tensions with Morocco and prompting UN intervention on the ground.
The UN report also pointed out Polisario military incursions into the buffer strip on two occasions, in Agwanit in October 2019 and in Tifariti in May 2020. The incursions constitute violations of MINURSO military agreement No. 1.
MINURSO established the agreement in 1997 to regulate its activities relating to monitoring the ceasefire between Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces (FAR) and the Polisario Front. The agreement divides Western Sahara into five areas: A buffer strip, two restricted areas, and two areas of limited restriction.
Under the agreement, neither Moroccan nor Polisario military forces may enter the buffer strip.
Despite the official protocol, Polisario moved several military units into the zone in defiance of MINURSO requests. The peacekeeping mission also discovered a military unit in Bir Lahlou consisting of six sites and approximately 50 individuals in June 2020. The UN also declared four other military construction projects in Bir Lahlou and Tifariti as violations of military agreement No. 1.
In the final section of the UN report, titled Observations & Recommendations, Guterres expressed concern with the “recent incursions” into the buffer zone.
“The status of the buffer strip as a demilitarized zone remains a cornerstone of the ceasefire in Western Sahara,” Guterres stressed in the report. “I call on the parties to discontinue military activity or presence inside this area.”