According to a former Polisario member, Mauritania’s decision serves as preparation for a possible Moroccan action to secure the Mahbes region after Guerguerat.
Rabat – Mauritania’s government council on Wednesday approved a draft decree designating a northern region as a “sensitive defense zone.”
Observers said the Mauritanian move not only seeks to secure the region from the threat of criminal organizations, but also relates to the Western Sahara conflict.
The draft decree describes northern Mauritania as an empty region that “may constitute a place of transit for terrorists, drug traffickers, and organized crime groups.”
Mustafa Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, a Sahrawi activist and a former Polisario officer, gave a brief analysis of the development on his Facebook page Friday. He argued that despite the text’s reasoning, Mauritania’s decision relates more to the Western Sahara conflict than to general security concerns.
Mustafa Salma pointed out that Ain Ben Tilli, the region concerned, borders Morocco’s Western Sahara and is close to Mahbes, a buffer zone and a UN-restricted area.
For the Polisario dissident, Mauritania is frustrated with the recent escalation in Guerguerat.
On November 13, 2020, Morocco’s government sent its military to Guerguerat, near the Moroccan-Mauritanian border to dislodge a number of Saharawi activists who had blocked the movement of people and goods between southern Morocco and Mauritania. The peaceful action came in response to Polisario’s refusal to withdraw its militias from the region.
Morocco lifted the cross-border blockade and secured the area with a security corridor.
In response to Morocco’s action, many in the international community lauded its measured efforts to restore stability.
Mustafa Salma said that Mauritania’s decision to designate the region as a sensitive zone comes from the same motivation that angered Algeria.
“What was new is the same [thing] that angered Algeria… the Sahara war was settled in the south after the Guerguerat crossing was secured, while the Mahbes sector near the Ait Ben Tilli area became the knot of the Sahara conflict, replacing Guerguerat,” Mustafa Salma said.
Fearing Morocco potentially completing its defense belt from the Mahbes region to the country’s north, Mauritania decided to take preventive action.
“It became imperative for Mauritania to take care of this possible change before making difficult choices between confrontation with the Polisario or Morocco,” Mustafa Salma underlined.
The activist said Mauritania’s preventive measures came in “anticipation of any military” action in the region.
For Mustafa Salma, Mauritania wanted to send a clear message to everyone that it would not allow any party “to implicate it in the conflict.”
He said that the move seeks to tell the Moroccan government that Mauritania will not accept Rabat imposing on it a “fait accompli,” nor will it accept Polisario’s forces turning Mauritanian territoires into bases to strike Morocco.