First Published: 2017-03-01

Tensions ease on disputed Western Sahara road
Trade picks up along road near Morocco's border with Mauritania after ease of tensions between Polisario Front separatists, army.
Middle East Online

Earth wall separating areas controlled by Morocco and the Polisario Front in Western Sahara

RABAT - Trade has picked up on a contested road in Western Sahara on Morocco's border with Mauritania after tensions eased between troops and separatists, officials and truck drivers said Wednesday.

Moroccan television said truck drivers were no longer being deterred by the presence of armed Polisario Front separatists who had been patrolling the road.

"Their number has gone down considerably," one driver told a local television station.

A border post official, contacted by AFP correspondents, said the flow of trucks carrying goods had stepped up.

"We were handling an average of about 250 vehicles a day but since Tuesday the number has gone up to more than 350. We're being overwhelmed," he said.

Rabat on Sunday announced a troop pullback from the Guerguerat zone along the road, in a decision taken by King Mohamed VI at the request of UN chief Antonio Guterres.

The United Nations has also called on the Polisario to evacuate the zone but there has been no such announcement from the Algiers-backed separatists.

Tensions flared last year after the Polisario set up a new military post in Guerguerat near the Mauritanian border, a stone's throw from Moroccan soldiers.

The move came after Morocco last August started building the tarmac road in the area south of a buffer zone separating the two sides.

The Polisario reacted by stepping up patrols in the zone which it considered a "liberated territory".

Rabat said the tarmacked road, located inside a buffer zone under a 1991 ceasefire, was designed to combat smuggling.

Newspapers in Rabat say only a four-kilometre (2.5-mile) stretch of road has been asphalted because Polisario incursions since December had interrupted work.

Several lorries had been intercepted and truck drivers subjected to insults and stone-throwing in past months, according to Moroccan newspapers.

For the separatists, the work aimed to alter the status quo, while Rabat insists on the flow of road traffic for trade between Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa.

Morocco and the Polisario fought for control of the Western Sahara from 1974 to 1991, with Rabat taking over the desert territory before a UN-brokered ceasefire took effect.

Rabat considers the Western Sahara an integral part of Morocco and proposes autonomy, while the Polisario demands self-determination for the resources-rich territory.

 

Pentagon skeptical about Russia's Syria pullout claims

Senior Saudi prince blasts Trump's "opportunistic" Jerusalem move

Kuwait ruler’s son named defence minister

EU accused of complicity in Libya migrant rights violations

Saudi Arabia lifts decades-long ban on cinemas

Israeli sentenced to four years for arson attack on church

Erdogan risks sabotaging fragile relations with Israel

6.2-magnitude earthquake strikes Iran

Two Gazans killed by Israeli ‘strike’, Israel denies claim

French FM accuses Iran of carving out ‘axis’ of influence

Somali journalist killed in front of children

Over 170 dead after South Sudan rival cattle herders clash

Russia begins partial withdrawal from Syria

Russia weary of returning IS jihadists before World Cup, election

EU says Syria war ‘ongoing’ despite Russia pullout

Istanbul nightclub gunman refuses to testify

Integrating Syrians in Turkey carries implications

US opinion views Muslims and Arabs more favourably but political affiliation makes a difference

Iranian conservative protesters say Trump hastening end of Israel

Jordan referred to UN for failing to arrest Sudanese president

Turkey demands life for journalists in coup bid trial

Netanyahu expects EU to follow suit on Jerusalem

Putin orders withdrawal of ‘significant’ amount of troops from Syria

Putin to meet with Sisi in Cairo

GCC at a critical juncture

Houthi rebels tighten grip on Sanaa after Saleh’s assassination

Israel’s Syrian air strikes risk renewing escalation as Iran expands presence in Golan

Qatar to acquire 24 Typhoon fighters from UK

Bahraini civil society group criticised after Israel visit

Israel PM faces renewed pressure in Europe

Palestinian stabs Israeli guard in ‘terrorist’ attack

UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed says US Jerusalem decision could help terrorists

Fateh encourages more protests, refuses to meet Pence

Chinese electric carmaker to open Morocco factory

Iraqi victory over IS remains fragile

Morocco’s renewed ties with South Africa likely to consolidate support for Western Sahara stance

Lebanese security forces fire tear gas at protestors

Syria’s justice system: ‘working without a written law'

Egypt revives controversial desert capital project

Iran sentences fugitive ex-bank chief to jail

Iraq announces 'end of the war against Daesh'

Israeli air strike kills 2 in Gaza

UK foreign minister in Iran to push for Briton's release

Turkey's Erdogan seeks to lead Muslim response on Jerusalem

Iraqi Christians celebrate in town retaken from IS