WED 20 - 3 - 2019
Apr 3, 2018
The Daily Star
Morocco threatens U.N. buffer zones in Western Sahara
RABAT: Morocco’s government is threatening to take control of U.N.-monitored buffer zones in Western Sahara amid concerns that the mission is failing to keep out Polisario Front independence fighters. The warning Sunday came as the U.N. is preparing a report this week on whether to extend its 27-year-old peacekeeping mission for Western Sahara, a territory claimed by both Morocco and the Polisario.
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said Sunday that the Polisario moved members to the U.N.-controlled areas of Bir Lehlou and Tifariti. He also said Polisario members are again entering the Guerguerat area near the Mauritanian border, despite a U.N.-brokered deal to leave after tensions erupted there in 2016.
“If the U.N., its secretary-general and the Security Council are not ready to put an end to these provocations, Morocco will have to act out its responsibility and intervene in the buffer zones,” Bourita told reporters after an emergency Parliament session to address Western Sahara.
Bourita said Morocco has alerted the Security Council to its plans to step in the deserted land, but declined to specify what kind of intervention or when it would begin.
Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit said, “Morocco is ready to do everything to preserve its Sahara.”
Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975 and fought the independence-seeking Polisario Front. The U.N. brokered a cease-fire in 1991 and established a peacekeeping mission to monitor it and to help prepare a referendum on the territory’s future that has never taken place.
The Saharans’ envoy to Algeria, Abdelghafour, said Polisario members in the buffer zones are under surveillance by U.N. forces, and accused Morocco of violating the cease-fire.
“Morocco is threatening everything,” he said. “It’s obvious that these maneuvers are aimed at influencing the next U.N. Security Council meeting to stop it from taking practical, effective measures.”
The U.N. envoy for Western Sahara, Horst Kohler, has sought to broaden the discussions on the territory’s future.
Morocco considers the mineral-rich Western Sahara its southern provinces and has invested heavily in development programs, and proposed giving the territory wide-ranging autonomy. Polisario insists that the referendum can only take place based on the principle of self-determination for the population, which it estimates at between 350,000 and 500,000. In 2016, Moroccan forces and Polisario Front fighters moved into Guerguerat buffer zone but pulled out a year later.
Also in 2016, Morocco expelled over 70 people working for the U.N. mission in Western Sahara, known as MINURSO, after then-U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon used the word “occupation” in talking about Western Sahara.
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