A threat to its interests has prompted the “neutral” party to respond to escalating tensions along the Moroccan-Mauritanian border.
Rabat – As the militant Polisario Front continues to defy the UN’s repeated calls to leave the buffer zone along the Moroccan-Mauritanian border, Mauritania is reinforcing its army positions in the border town of Guerguerat.
Polisario has carried out provocative acts in Guerguerat since September by blocking traffic and holding protests, inviting repeated warnings from the UN, Moroccan officials, and even King Mohammed VI to leave the off-limits, MINURSO-monitored area.
Furious with the latest developments in the Western Sahara dossier that favor Morocco, Polisario continues its destabilizing antics. The Front even threatened earlier this week to end the ceasefire agreement.
A blockade has stranded some 200 Moroccan truck drivers on the Mauritanian side of the Guerguerat crossing for weeks. Last week they issued a distress call to Rabat from Nouakchott, saying “militias affiliated with the separatists” prevented them from crossing back into Morocco.
Up until now, Mauritania has remained relatively silent on the crisis at its northern border. Now that its interests are under threat, the West African country and “neutral” party to the Western Sahara dispute is finally responding to the situation in the buffer zone.
A high-ranking Mauritanian official speaking anonymously to Middle East Online said on Wednesday that “the army has strengthened its positions along the border, which is a normal procedure to deal with any eventuality.” The official did not provide specifics on the number of deployed forces.
The move falls within the framework of Mauritania’s response to the current crisis in Guerguerat as Polisario stages a blockade of cross-border civilian and commercial traffic. The Mauritanian official stressed that his country has the right “to protect ourselves and impose our neutrality” in the conflict between Morocco and the separatist Polisario Front.
Also on Wednesday, during a press conference after a Council of Ministers session, Government Spokesperson Sidi Ould Salem said Mauritanian diplomacy is currently working “to find, as soon as possible, a solution to the crisis prevailing at Guerguerat crossing point.”
The “Guerguerat crisis concerns a demilitarized zone that is under United Nations control, although it is the subject of longstanding litigation,” the spokesman said.
“We are not involved in this dispute, but we are primarily concerned, as neighbors of the various parties, by this crisis,” he clarified.
The spokesman added that the blockade has disrupted supplies to Mauritanian markets, particularly of agricultural goods.
Adding to the breaking of Mauritania’s silence, the state-sponsored Mauritanian Information Agency (AMI) reported that the country’s Foreign Minister Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed held a phone call with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday.
The news agency reported that the talks focused on the situation in Guerguerat, with both sides expressing concern that the conflict could “escalate at any time.”
The Mauritanian diplomat urged Guterres to act quickly to resolve the crisis “as soon as possible.”
Guterres said the UN made contacts in the last two days to “avoid aggravation of the situation on the field, but he did not hide his concerns about the danger” of the situation as the Algeria-backed Polisario Front threatens to break the ceasefire.