The only paved road between Morocco and Mauritania for the transportation of heavy goods vehicles is located in a no man's land nicknamed «Kandahar». The area has become the center of frequent conflicts between the Kingdom and the Polisario.
Since Morocco conducted a military intervention in the Sahara, Friday, to restore the flow of goods and people, Guerguerate has been at the heart of a territorial conflict that dates back to 50 years. To better understand the context of the crisis, Yabiladi delves into the history of the area.
While driving on national road n° 1, most precisely the part connecting Laayoune to Dakhla, one gets to cross the Sahara desert, with a peak on the Atlantic ocean from time to time. By the end of the 490-kilometer-long trip, you can turn right to get to the provincial road n° 1100. 12 kilometers into that same road, a crossroads appears, with two paths. One that bring to Guerguerate and a left one that goes toward Aousserd.
It is one of the farthest places in southern Morocco. It is located 26 km away from El Argoub, more than 73 km away from Imlili and it takes 235 km to get to Bir Gandouz. Regardless of your destination, the national road n° 1 is the only way to go. From Bir Gandouz to the small town of Guerguerate, the journey totals 80 km. When you reach your destination, the border crossing between Morocco and Mauritania is still located to the south, about 7.3 km away from the village itself.
The no man's land
This road is above all the only paved road crossing point for the transportation of heavy goods vehicles between Morocco and its southern neighbor, Mauritania. The Guerguerate crossing is also the last secure place with buildings and gas stations before crossing a no man's land, known as «Kandahar». It takes 3.7 km before reaching the Mauritanian post, erected in the middle of the desert.
Here, the name chosen, referring to an Afghan city, allows the driver to get an idea as to what awaits them in said no man's land: hundreds of abandoned vehicle wrecks and sand. This piece of land, a few kilometers long, was mainly used as a major place of traffic of all kinds, including cars and drugs.
But in August 2016, while Moroccan-Mauritanian relations were strained, units of the Royal Armed Forces (FAR) entered the buffer zone to carry out a security operation and «seize hundreds of vehicles». A total of 192 vehicles, 778 metal carcasses and a pile of old tires were evacuated.
During the same month, Morocco constructed a tarmac road section, crossing «Kandahar», and stopping halfway through the Mauritanian border post. The operation, denounced by the Polisario, triggered a first crisis. The area being secured neither by the FAR nor by MINURSO, is used by the Polisario as a pressure card to put the Western Sahara issue under the spotlight.
Blockages as the UN deadlines approach
Thus, a few months later, the separatist movement, satisfied with the echo given to the first Guerguerate crisis, built «posts» in «Kandahar». From February 2017 on, the movement even began to prohibit Moroccan trucks from crossing to Mauritania, pushing Morocco to seize the UN and MINURSO. The movement of Brahim Ghali hoped to play the card of escalation in order to attract the attention of the UN Security Council, especially during the renewal of the mandate of the UN mission.
The same month, Morocco ended up withdrawing from the buffer zone, leaving the Polisario alone to face the international community. Worse, the movement and its elements harassed truck drivers. It was only in April, following widespread international condemnation, that the Front complied, withdrawing its «check points».
Although it lost that battle, the Polisario did not despair for the next ones to come. The border crossing between Morocco and Mauritania is blocked every time the MINURSO’s mandate is about to get extended and on other occasions, such as the Africa Eco Race event.
With the recent FAR operation to secure the movement of people and goods between Morocco and Mauritania, the Kingdom hopes to put an end to the infiltrations of Polisario militiamen coming from the East. Government sources have revealed that a «security wall along the Mauritanian border for a distance of 14 kilometers» will be built. It is not known whether this is an extension of the Moroccan defense wall or a new protective wall for the buffer zone.
Morocco could therefore complete the road-paving project to the Mauritanian border post, and put an end once and for all to the repeated blockages of the only land route linking Morocco to its southern neighbor.