The UN Security Council met on Friday to discuss the ongoing conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front.
The meeting was requested by Venezuela for a briefing on the security operation conducted by Morocco in the Guerguerat region near the Mauritanian border, according to Le360.
The meeting comes after the new leader of the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, sent a letter to the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The letter accused Morocco of “violating” a ceasefire agreement by moving troops across a landmine-filled buffer zone last week.
Morocco denied taking such action. The United Nation mission, MINURSO, which monitors the ceasefire agreement, investigated and reported that no military movements were occurring.
Instead, Moroccan security forces were gathering along the Mauritanian border to combat drug smugglers and nefarious terrorist operations in the region. The region where Moroccan security forces were engaging is a hub of criminality and drug trafficking, but there are reports that extremist and terrorist are recruiting in the area as well.
In response, neighboring Mauritania gathered troops along the border and readied its missiles to confront Morocco.
The conflict began in 1975 when Spain, under pressure from Morocco released its former colony following the Green March, which allowed Morocco to retrieve its sovereignty over the territory.
The Polisario Front, a guerilla army of Sahrawi tribesmen, sought to form an independent state in Western Sahara. Armed by Algeria, the Polisario Front waged a guerrilla war against Morocco for the next 16 years. The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was formed to maintain a ceasefire, de-mine the region and create a buffer between the warring parties in 1991.
The 40-year old conflict between the Morocco and the Polisario Front drew renewed international attention in early March when United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the refugee camps filled with impoverished Sahrawis in Tindouf, Algeria. The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates that 90,000 people are living in the camps.
Ban made a diplomatic gaffe by calling Morocco’s sovereignty over the territory an “occupation.”
Morocco then forced the expulsion of 84 international civil servants supporting 242 MINURSO peacekeeping troops and observers.
Morocco has since allowed 25 civil servants to return to the region and has made an application to rejoin the African Union after it left 32 years ago because of the organization’s support of the Polisaro Front’s new independent state, the Democratic Arab Republic of Sahrawi.
Moroccan-Mauritania relations have been on a rocky road in recent years. King Mohammad VI of Morocco has not visited his neighbor since Mohammed Ouel Abdel Aziz took power in 2009 following a coup d’etat. Mauritania pulled out it diplomats from Morocco’s capital, Rabat, five years ago.
Since 2009, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has become increasingly close to both Algeria and the Polisario.
Mauritania provoked Moroccan sensitivities by raising their flag in the southernmost Moroccan region of Lagouira in December. Diplomats from Rabat were dispatched, talks held, but no resolution found.
Morocco has been successful in warding off terrorism strikes. The Kingdom has not had a major terrorism incident since 2003. Part of their effort is training and being proactive.
The Kingdom has recently engaged in anti-terrorism strikes against Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Swedish expert and senior policy advisor the Brussels-based European Foundation for Democracy, Magnus Norell, confirmed that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was recruiting members of the Polisario militia from camps in Tindouf.
Meanwhile, Algeria is building a fence along its border with Morocco.