Morocco's Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani REUTERS
Morocco's premier has rejected as propoganda a claim made this week by pro-independence rebels fighting over disputed Western Sahara that they had killed three of the kingdom's soldiers.
The Algeria-backed Polisario Front said Tuesday it had killed three Moroccan soldiers in the southern Ouarkziz area in the Akka region the previous day in a raid on a garrison that saw it overrun then destroyed.
Moroccan Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani on Wednesday rejected the claim in a tweet.
"It's yet another example of the media war, backed by 'fake news', that the Polisario separatists are waging to make people believe in imaginary victories," he wrote.
The Far-Maroc unofficial website dedicated to military news said the Polisario claim was "malicious rumour of enemies of the Moroccan nation".
"There is no way to attack Akka except from Algerian soil and under the eyes of the Algerian army, which would mean an explicit declaration of war by Algeria against the kingdom," it said on Facebook.
The claim is the first time the Polisario have said they inflicted losses on the Moroccan army on the kingdom's soil since mid-November, but it could not be verified independently.
Tensions rose sharply between the two sides on November 13 when Morocco sent troops into a buffer zone to reopen the only road leading from Morocco to Mauritania and the rest of West Africa, after the separatists had blocked it the previous month.
The Polisario responded by declaring a 1991 United Nations-backed ceasefire null and void, arguing the road had not existed when the truce was signed and was therefore illegal.
The two sides have since exchanged regular fire along the demarcation line.
The 1991 ceasefire deal was meant to lead to a referendum on self-determination for the Britain-sized territory, home to about one million people.
Morocco has offered autonomy but maintains the territory is a sovereign part of the kingdom.
The Polisario, which fought a war for independence from Morocco from 1975 to 1991, has said it is still willing to join UN talks on the territory's future -- but would not lay down its arms.
The talks ground to a halt in March 2019.
Rabat has won the recognition of its claim to sovereignty over the entire disputed territory from numerous countries, which have opened consulates in Western Sahara.