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Morocco warns Polisario about Guerguerat crossing

Members of the Sahrawi People's Liberation Army parade with Polisario Front's flags in the disputed territory of Western Sahara on 27 February 2016 at the Sahrawi refugee camp of Dakhla which lies 170 km to the southeast of the Algerian city of Tindouf. [FAROUK BATICHE/AFP via Getty Images]
Members of the Sahrawi People's Liberation Army parade with Polisario Front's flags in the disputed territory of Western Sahara on 27 February 2016 [FAROUK BATICHE/AFP via Getty Images]

Morocco warned the Polisario Front on Thursday about the repercussions of the decision to block the passage of goods and individuals through the Guerguerat crossing point linking the Kingdom and Mauritania. The government in the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, meanwhile, says that it is working to resolve the crisis.

Guerguerat crossing is the main land corridor between the two countries. It has been closed since 21 October by Sahrawi demonstrators loyal to the Polisario Front, which challenges Morocco's sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

According to the Moroccan News Agency, a diplomat denounced "the obstruction of passage via the Guerguerat by Polisario separatists, acts of sabotage of the road linking the Moroccan and Mauritanian borders, and provocation of members of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces." The identity of the source was not revealed.

The diplomat insisted that the measures taken by the Polisario Front "constitute a flagrant violation" of relevant UN Security Council resolutions. He warned that this may seriously threaten the sustainability of the ceasefire.

The conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front over the Western Sahara erupted in 1975, after the Spanish occupation ended. It turned into an armed confrontation that lasted until 1991 and ended with the signing of a ceasefire agreement, in which Guerguerat was designated as a buffer zone.

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The Moroccan official suggested that the Front's decision is an explicit challenge to UN Secretary General António Guterres. The UN chief has called on three separate occasions for the maintenance of civilian and commercial freedom of movement in the buffer zone.

"Morocco will not accept a change in the status of the region and will ask the international community to witness the violation in order to hold the Algeria-backed Polisario Front responsible," added the diplomat.

Rabat insists on its right to govern the region, but nevertheless proposed autonomous rule in the Western Sahara under its sovereignty, but the Polisario Front wants a referendum to let the people determine the future of the region. Algeria has been supporting the Front's proposal and hosts refugees from the region.

In Mauritania, spokesman Sidi Ould Salem told a press conference on Wednesday that the crisis in Guerguerat is an old dispute to which the government is not party. "Of course, we are concerned about the conflict as a neighbour of the disputing parties," he explained. "Mauritanian diplomats are working to resolve the problem as soon as possible and at the lowest cost possible."

The Mauritanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, met with Guterres on Wednesday evening. The Mauritanian News Agency said that both men spoke about "the gravity of the situation and fears that it will ignite violence." Guterres called on Mauritania to play a "positive role acknowledged by all parties to resolve the crisis."

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