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Morocco: Former minister announces new phase in Western Sahara conflict

A former spokesman for the Moroccan government, Mustapha El-Khalfi, has said that there is a "new phase" in the Western Sahara issue, after recent tension in the region. "Morocco will not stand idly by while the separatists are trying to alter the Moroccan Western Sahara Wall," he insisted, referring to a buffer zone on the border of the region in which the UN forces are deployed.

"Morocco's decision [to open the Guerguerat crossing] has been welcomed and appreciated by many countries," El-Khalfi noted. "All legal, diplomatic and political precautions have been taken."

On 14 November, Rabat announced the resumption of transport links to and from Mauritania via the Guerguerat crossing, after a military operation when the border was closed by elements loyal to the Polisario Front. In response, the Front declared an end to the ceasefire agreed with Morocco in 1991.

The Moroccan army announced later that the border crossing was "completely secured" after ensuring the movement of goods and people. Arab and African countries backed Morocco in its operation against the Polisario.

There has been a conflict between Morocco and the Polisario over the Western Sahara region since 1975, when Spain's occupation ended. The armed conflict lasted until 1991; under the terms of the ceasefire Guerguerat was declared to be a demilitarised zone.

READ: Morocco says its move in Sahara 'not military action'

Rabat insists on its right to the Western Sahara, and has proposed a self-rule system under Moroccan sovereignty, whereas the Polisario Front wants a referendum to determine the future of the region. Its proposal is supported by Algeria, which hosts refugees from the disputed area.

"The intervention in Guerguerat put [Morocco] in a new offensive position," explained El-Khalfi. "It also affirmed Morocco's right to assume its responsibility when the UN and other mediators were unable to ensure the Polisario's compliance with Security Council resolutions." The military intervention, he added, is "a permanent, sustainable and radical solution" to prevent "Polisario mercenaries" from closing the border in future. Such a solution is "supported by international legitimacy."

Calling the Polisario's statement about pulling out of the ceasefire deal "propaganda", the former official said: "What matters to us is that there is a new reality emerging on the ground and a new phase is being shaped to put an end to the illusion of achieving its aims by force of arms."

Morocco, El-Khalfi pointed out, is working on the diplomatic front to end the conflict, whereby it has neutralised the African Union's attempt to exploit the crisis and spread confusion in the Kingdom, in addition to the new agreements with the EU that cover the southern regions. He added that Rabat is working on the demarcation of maritime borders and the continental shelf and relies on the fact that more than 50 more countries have withdrawn their recognition of the Polisario Front, bringing the total to 163.

"Domestically, Morocco is implementing development projects in the Western Sahara, activating human rights mechanisms and boosting the infrastructure," he concluded, "and the Kingdom is working on the ground to stop all provocation east of the Western Sahara Wall."

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