Easing Tensions: Moroccan Forces Withdraw from UN Western Sahara Buffer Zone

Written by | Monday, February 27th, 2017

Morocco said yesterday (26 February) that it would withdraw its forces from a United Nations-controlled buffer zones in the disputed Western Sahara territory. The buffer zone has been for months in a standoff with troops from the Polisario independence movement. The move will reduce tensions in Guerguerat, a remote area in Western Sahara near the borders with Mauritania, and it came following a phone call between Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

The UN Secretary General released a statement on Saturday (25 September), urging all parties to “unconditionally withdraw all armed elements from the buffer strip as soon as possible” and the next day the Moroccan Foreign Ministry confirmed that King Mohammed had ordered “a unilateral withdrawal from the zone” as per the UN Secretary General’s recommendations. Morocco now “hopes the secretary general’s intervention will allow a return to the previous situation in the zone concerned, keep its status intact, allow the flow of normal road traffic and thus safeguard the cease-fire,” the Moroccan statement said.

Last year, the region witnessed one of the most tense military actions in recent years between both sides of the dispute – Morocco and Polisario, which declared an independent state in the disputed territory in the 1970s and has fought a guerilla war with Morocco ever since. The standoff began last year after the United Nations troops stepped in after Moroccan forces had entered Moroccan-controlled areas. Morocco said that it was a road clearing operation, though Polisario claimed they had to mobilize because Rabat had allegedly broken the terms of the ceasefire by trying to build a road in the buffer zone.

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