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Morocco says to withdraw from Western Sahara tension zone

AFP , Sunday 26 Feb 2017
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Morocco said Sunday it will pull back from a zone of the contested Western Sahara that has raised tensions with Algeria-backed Polisario Front separatists.

"The Kingdom of Morocco will proceed from today with a unilateral withdrawal from the (Guerguerat) zone," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said the decision was taken by King Mohamed VI at the request of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Rabat 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 ceasefire", it said.

In a telephone call to Guterres on Friday, the king called on the United Nations to take urgent measures to end "provocation" by the Polisario Front threatening a 1991 ceasefire.

Morocco insists that the former Spanish colony is an integral part of its kingdom, but the Polisario is demanding a referendum on self-determination.

The two sides fought for control of the Western Sahara from 1974 to 1991, with Rabat gaining control of the territory before the UN-brokered ceasefire took effect.

In the phone call, Mohamed condemned "repeated incursion by armed Polisario men" in the Guerguerat district.

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

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

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