RABAT - Mauritania’s army has reinforced its positions along the border with Morocco, where some 200 Moroccan truck drivers have been prevented by the Algeria-backed Polisario Front separatists from crossing the border in the Guerguerat zone, a high-ranking local official said Wednesday.
"The army has strengthened its positions along the border, which is a normal procedure to deal with any eventuality," the Mauritanian official said, requesting anonymity, without specifying the number of additional forces that had been deployed.
He added that the reinforcement of security measures at the borders fell within the framework of the current crisis, stressing “our right to protect ourselves and impose our neutrality.”
Last week, about 200 Moroccan truck drivers issued a distress call to Rabat and Nouakchott, saying that they were stuck at the Guerguerat crossing, an area in a buffer zone in the southwest near the Mauritanian border.
The drivers said that they were stuck on the Mauritanian side after “militias affiliated with the separatists” prevented them from crossing the Guerguerat area while they were returning through the land border with Mauritania.
Following the inability of the UN peacekeeping mission "MINURSO" to remove the Polisario militiamen from the Guergarat buffer zone despite Rabat’s repeated calls, Morocco started supplying Mauritanian markets with vegetables and fruits by sea.
A first shipment of vegetables and fruits contained in around 30 containers was delivered by boat to Mauritanian markets which have lately seen prices of agricultural products skyrocket as a result of the separatists’ acts of sabotage.
Mauritanian political leaders criticised their government’s inaction to deal with the crisis in Guerguerat.
Kan Hamidou Baba, the leader of the Movement for Refoundation (MPR) and former 2019 presidential candidate, slammed the blockade “unacceptable” in a press conference.
“The blockade is an attempt to stifle the Mauritanian economy and the economy of neighbouring countries,” said Baba.
The Polisario Front said Monday it will end the ceasefire agreement with Rabat and wage a new war in the region if Morocco sends troops or civilians to the buffer zone of Guerguerat.
This is not the first time that the Polisario carried out incursions in Guerguerat, prompting the UN’s call for their withdrawal.
In a speech addressed to the nation on November 7 on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the Green March, King Mohammed VI warned against the Polisario’s provocations.
“Morocco will not waver in its position. Nor will it be affected, in any way, by the useless provocations and desperate schemes of the other parties, which attest to a headlong rush, now that their outdated claims have failed,” King Mohammed VI warned.
The United Nations Security Council renewed on October 30 the mandate of its MINURSO mission in Western Sahara for another year.
Morocco has controlled Western Sahara since Spanish colonial rule ended there in 1974, with the Polisario Front pushing for it to win independence.
United Nations efforts to broker a settlement between Morocco and the Polisario have repeatedly failed. A referendum on its future, promised as part of a 1991 ceasefire deal, never took place.
Western Sahara, though a sparsely populated desert region, has rich fishing waters, phosphate deposits and Morocco's only working land route into the rest of Africa as its border with Algeria is closed.
Rabat considers Western Sahara an integral part of Morocco and proposes autonomy for the resource-rich territory.
Several African countries and the United Arab Emirates opened their consulates in the North African Kingdom’s southern provinces as a way of backing Morocco’s territorial integrity and autonomy plan.
Their moves have dealt a heavy blow to the Polisario Front’s claim of independence, especially after several countries around the world withdrew their recognition of the so-called Sahrawi Arab Republic.