Morocco warns against Polisario provocation in W. Sahara

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Morocco’s government is threatening to take control of UN-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 UN 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 recently moved members to the UN-controlled areas of Bir Lehlou and Tifariti. He also said Polisario members are again entering the Guerguerat area near the Mauritanian border, despite a UN-brokered deal to leave after tensions erupted there in 2016.

“If the UN, 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.”

The UN 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 UN forces, and accused Morocco of violating the cease-fire. “Morocco is threatening everything,” he told The Associated Press. “It’s obvious that these maneuvers are aimed at influencing the next UN Security Council meeting to stop it from taking practical, effective measures.” The UN 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.

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